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Voices from the Field: Mohamed Moawad

Mohamed Moawad reports from dangerous territories in Libya.

“The past two years were overwhelmed by violent and non-violent social conflicts that are shaping the present and the future of several societies in North Africa and the Middle East. In the midst of turmoil, I have been working as a Radio Sawa reporter to make the voices and aspirations of those who were asking for change heard as well as the reactions of politicians and military leaders trying to sustain the status quo. My reporting assignments took me to Juba earlier in 2011 to document the split of the South Sudan from Sudan and to Libya at the height of armed conflict between the rebels and Qaddafi forces. During the decisive eighteen-day Egyptian Revolution in January and February of 2011, I camped out in Tahrir Square in Cairo.

I moved across the front lines among protesters and police in Cairo, and along the dangerous roads of Benghazi, Ras Lanuf and Misrata in Libya.  Through my reporting I was able to capture the dynamics of NATO air attacks, the fight between Qaddafi’s forces and the rebels and various manifestations of impending humanitarian devastation. I was one of only four foreign correspondents who managed to enter the city of Misrata, against all odds.  Our United Nations humanitarian boat fell under heavy bombing by Qaddafi’s forces.

I missed death twice. The first time by escaping from a car I was riding in seconds before it was hit by a rocket. The second brush with death was in May when Qaddafi’s forces targeted the IOM (International Organization for Migration) boat I was on trying to get back to Benghazi.

During the three weeks I spent in Misrata, I stood directly in front of the perpetrators of violence on both sides.  One of the most chilling moments from my time in Libya was hearing the last words of American photojournalist Chris Hondros, minutes before his death. They still ring in my ears. “I was expecting to die covering a war, not a revolution!” he said.  The pain he must have suffered still haunts my memory of him.

I will always look forward to covering frontlines despite the dangers inherent in such an assignment. “War is a work of terrible power and redemptive clarity whose truths have never been more necessary,” as war reporter Chris Hedges said. As journalists, we need to be where people need their story told.  We can’t stop wars or conflicts and we can’t save lives, but we can give a voice to the voiceless. We can be a witness to shine a light on the darkest corner of human nature.

I will keep telling stories of people hoping you would listen.  If I do not come back, I am sure some journalist on the frontline will bring you my story.”



Mohamed Moawad accepting an award at the New York Festivals


Mohamed Moawad has been a radio broadcaster for Radio Sawa since August 2011. He earned three awards for Radio Sawa at the 2012 New York Festivals for his coverage of the Egyptian Revolution and the events in Libya.  He interviewed local peoples in Tahrir Square who called for change and those on the front lines in Misrata fighting pro-Qaddafi troops.

Voices from the Field: Franak Viačorka

The Vaclav Havel Fellowship is a joint program between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that is inspired by the former president’s belief in the transformational role of journalism in challenging tyranny.  It provides direct work experience and mentoring at RFE/RL’s Prague headquarters to journalists from countries in RFE/RL’s broadcast region where media freedom is stifled. More information about the program can be found here.

Journalists shouldn’t afraid of government. Even if it seems to be impossible, we journalists must find the opportunity to show the truth as it is.

Franak Viačorka in Belarus

When I was sixteen, my radio program “Young Voices”  appeared on the web and on air twice a month on the Belarus Service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.  The program was about my generation of youth, its activities and its struggle for freedom. I already had some journalism experience; at the age of 13, I was making reportages for independent radio stations about youth protests in Belarus and had created an informational portal about the presidential electoral campaign in 2001. “Young Voices” built on this experience and really gained traction.  After it began broadcasting, I was interrogated by the KGB for the first time. I was a teenager, and the interrogation demonstrated the power of free information to me. Once RFE/RL wrote about my detention, I was instantly released.

After this, I understood that my mission is to inspire free speech and free thought in Belarus.

As a result of my work in journalism, I have been jailed four times and expelled from the state faculty of journalism for “professional inconsistency.”  One morning I left my house to buy bread, and I was detained by two men from the security service. They handcuffed me and took me to the army in spite of the law and my own medical health.  I spent eighteen months of service in the Chernobyl Zone. Those months were like prison for me because of the “special treatment” and “political re-education” I received. I was forced to clean toilets with bare hands. I celebrated New Year 2010 in the hospital with a scab and others soldiers.

Viačorka in prison in February 2011

This did not stop me, though, because I began to write a blog about the realities of the army.

With my blog, I was fighting for the rights of myself and the other soldiers.

I took photos of the toilets and the inhuman conditions of the cells and put them on the web via an “illegal” mobile phone.

Photos of the toilets that Viačorka was forced to clean by hand. He posted these photos to his blog in protest of the inhuman conditions.

The blog became popular, and RFE/RL republished it. In some ways, the blog was a success because the soldiers and I were granted time off in the city, the right to call home, more or less edible meat, and the toilets were partly reconstructed. I was also granted the right to serve using my native Belarusian language.  Finally, I proved that I was drafted illegally.

I also managed to participate in local elections during my time as a soldier. I was registered as a candidate to the local council of deputies.  RFE/RL and my blog made me well-known in the town as ‘the people’s journalist.’  Of course, the elections were falsified, and I did not win.  However, I did succeed in proving these falsifications occurred. I hid myself in the voting cabin and made a video with a smartphone. In the ballot box, there were 750 extra ballots with the opponent’s name.

Poles even shot a feature movie based on my story, and it was shown in a majority of cinemas in Poland. It was also shown at the Cannes Film Festival.  In Belarus this movie was forbidden.

RFE/RL was the first to write about it.  You can read their story here.   The trailer for the movie is also available to watch here.

I think in Belarus, independent journalism is too strongly connected with politics.  Journalists in Belarus are being persecuted by the Government, the same and even harsher than oppositional activists.


Franak Viačorka, the first Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellow at RFE/RL, is a journalist, filmmaker and political activist from Minsk, Belarus. Franak has worked as a journalist and editor for several independent publications in Belarus, including as a freelancer for the BelaPAN news agency (2005-2008), as executive editor of the Belarusan Popular Front’s monthly journal “Naviny BNF” (2005-2008) and since 2011 as director of the “Citizen Journalist” initiative Viachorka also worked from 2008-2012 with the independent satellite TV channel Belsat. Since completing his Fellowship, he has continued to work with RFE/RL as the Belarus Service’s New Media Manager and as a presenter on the RFE/RL Belarus Service program “Zona Svobody.”

In 2006 Viačorka starred in the award-winning documentary, “A Lesson of Belarusian,” which chronicled his life as a pro-democracy youth activist in the run-up to the country’s 2006 presidential elections. He is also the co-screen writer and second director of a 2013 film, “Viva Belarus,” about his army service and the circumstances faced by young conscripts.


Voices from the Field: Irina Gotisan

The Vaclav Havel Fellowship is a joint program between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that is inspired by the former president’s belief in the transformational role of journalism in challenging tyranny. It provides direct work experience and mentoring at RFE/RL’s Prague headquarters to journalists from countries in RFE/RL’s broadcast region where media freedom is stifled. More information about the program can be found here.

Irina Gotisan, left, talks with other 2013 Vaclav Havel Fellow Tahmina Taghiyeva, center, and John Todoroki of the Prague Freedom Foundation, right.

“Before receiving the Vaclav Havel Fellowship at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, I was a reporter at the national TV channel from the Republic of Moldova, Moldova 1. A reform was in progress here when I joined the news room in May 2010 that was attempting to transform the outlet from a propaganda tool by the former ruling Party of Communists to a genuine modern news room, competing with private TV stations.

I was conscious about all of the difficulties at Moldova 1, but I wanted to be part of this reform and contribute.

As a reporter at Moldova 1, I mainly covered political topics, and I produced short informative reportages during electoral campaigns. It was difficult to try to regain the confidence of Moldova 1’s viewers. Sometimes it was difficult to obtain interviews. Sometimes when I tried to speak to people in the street, they would refuse to talk to me because of the microphone I was carrying, saying that I was representing ‘the Communist’s TV.’

The new management together with a new team of editors, presenters and reporters had to work hard to restore the public trust in the main news program, Mesager – The Messenger. The task was difficult enough because some colleagues who used to work at the station during the communist regime and embraced Communist ideology tried to resist the reform. Despite the resistance, the efforts of the new team to regain the confidence of our public and to present truthful journalism at the public national channel were appreciated by the EU, the OSCE, and the U.S. State Department, as well as local media NGOs.


Seda Stepanyan, center, joined Gotisan and Taghiyeva in the studios of the Washington, DC bureau of Bloomberg News on April 8, 2013. The three women won 2013 Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellowships.

The Vaclav Havel Fellowship represents a good opportunity for me to know more about documentary films. Even though Radio Free Europe produces short video features and not documentaries, but I have the possibility to learn more about how to identify an interesting topic, how to shoot and how to edit the video. Also, a very interesting experience for me was the radio journalism, because I only knew how to do television reporting. Through this fellowship, I met a lot of interesting persons.  I visited new places in the world, and I enriched myself not only professionally, but also spiritually.

After this fellowship I plan to bring my contribution to developing the new advocacy and production department at the Independent Journalism Centre back home. I also want to improve my skills and knowledge in documentary production.       

I hope that, one day, the Moldovan mass media will be appreciated as a free one in the Freedom House reports. I am also optimistic that one day the journalists from my country will be more courageous and will do more investigative materials about corruption and social issues and, after that, the persons responsible for some wrong doings, especially politicians, will be punished.

I hope that journalists will not allow anybody to influence them and that our politicians will understand that mass media is a watchdog and not a puppy with which they can play games.


Irina Gotisan, a journalist specializing in visual media and documentary film, is fulfilling her fellowship in Prague with RFE/RL’s Moldova Service. From 2010-2012, Gotisan worked as a reporter covering political and social issues for TV Moldova 1, a national, public television channel. A recipient of the Chisinau Press Club’s “Hope of the Year” award in 2010, Gotisan has held several journalism internships, including one with AICI Network, a media program funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). In 2006, Gotisan joined the International Relations faculty at “Perspectiva International” University in Chisinau, where she taught courses on globalization and international relations. Gotisan is a 2012 graduate of the Television School in Bucharest, Romania and holds a Masters degree from the Academy of Public Administration in Chisinau.

Voices from the Field: André de Nesnera

André de Nesnera in the VOA news room, Washington, D.C.

“In 1986 I was in East Berlin, on my way to a meeting with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).   I met a Canadian man, Jim Worrall, who was attending the meeting as part of the Canadian delegation to the IOC.  Worrall also attended the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin 50 years earlier as Canada’s flag bearer. The 1936 Olympics was the Olympics that Hitler used to promote the Third Reich.  This was the Olympics in which Jesse Owens competed as an African American man in Nazi Germany.

1936 Berlin Olympics, photo courtesy of German Federal Archive (Deutsches Bundesarchiv) as part of a cooperation project.

I took Worrall back to the stadium in West Berlin, the original stadium that was used in 1936. We went, and he started to reminisce. He pointed out where Hitler stood during the opening ceremony, and he talked about what it felt like to be in Germany at the time, before the war began. He was emotional, and there were tears.  It was a stream-of-consciousness and quite remarkable.  I had a small tape recorder at the time.  I turned it into a radio story.  It was really well-received because it was such a unique story. I’d trade top-notch interviews for moments like that.”


André de Nesnera is an award-winning journalist that has worked as a reporter for Voice of America for more than three decades in Europe and domestically in the United States.  In 2002, U.S. Foreign Service officers honored de Nesnera with the Tex Harris Award for Constructive Dissent for resisting political pressure from State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher and other U.S. officials after VOA ran excerpts of a 2001 interview with Mullah Mohammed Omar, a Taliban leader at the time. The story also earned de Nesnera a Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism from the University of Oregon.  He currently serves as a Senior Correspondent at VOA.

Voices from the Field: Tarek Elshamy

Tarek Elshamy reporting from Tahrir Square

“During the dangerous days of covering the 25 January revolution, international journalists were under attack and Alhurra was no exception. A mob stormed Alhurra’s Cairo news office where all our team was camped out reporting on the always changing events minute by minute. It was believed that Mubarak’s regime was trying to stop transmission of TV channels that gained credibility during the revolution. While we were on air a mob tried to storm the office and tried to scare the team. Most of the team climbed out onto the balcony and jumped across to the roof of a hotel that was next door to escape. However, we stayed on the air. I tried to prevent the mob from coming into the offices, but they did get in and went on to steal some equipment and threatened to attack us again if we continued our coverage. However, we were not deterred and continued our nonstop coverage as usual. I also told the story on air to let everyone know that we will not be intimidated.

Alhurra’s coverage of the Egyptian revolution was one of the only places that Egyptian viewers could turn to watch the events as they happened without bias. A phone survey of Egyptians in Cairo and Alexandria showed that 25 percent of the respondents had watched Alhurra during that time as a source of news and information about the revolution.”

Tarek Elshamy is the Cairo News Bureau Chief and Chief Correspondent. He is the host of  “Hiwar Cairo,” a weekly program in Cairo, Egypt that examines the  political and social aspects of the country on the Alhurra network.  The program hosts a wide range of figures, including state ministers, heads of political parties, presidential candidates and others. El Shamy has received awards from the London based Association of International Broadcasting (AIB) as well as the David Burke Award for the distinguished coverage of the Egyptian Revolution.

Voices from the Field: Gordon Burnett

RFA’s Gordon Burnett demonstrates how to use a video camera to colleagues in Cambodia

“I went to Cambodia in 2000 for the Millennial celebration.  There was going to be a party at Angkor Wat.  We were doing a live, remote feed of the celebration at Angkor Wat and sending it back to Washington, D.C.  I started traveling to do technical work in Cambodia in 1988, but this trip was unfortunate from the start.  First, they put me next to a kid from Philadelphia who had the flu.  By the time we reached our stop-over I was sick and by the time we reached Cambodia I was out.

Once I arrived, I had to go to a meeting.  I had forgotten that the ceilings can be very low in Cambodia, and I walked straight into a beam. Instant knockout! When I woke up, I had a mild concussion and the flu.

Later, I retired to my hotel and thought I would just sleep it all off.   After about 30 minutes in bed I got a call from my boss in D.C. asking me to get on the first plane to Siem Reap.  Apparently, the people organizing the party at Angkor Wat were distressed about the looming Millennium bug and needed some support.

With extensive experience in Cambodia, Gordon Burnett travels through the country via motorbike.

I got to Siem Reap on New Year’s Eve.  We did our set-up and testing.  All of a sudden, the cellphone that I had always used in Cambodia didn’t work and the satellites we were using to broadcast signal didn’t work. The Y2K bug started kicking in. I had to think quickly about what to do.  I had a mixer, two microphones, headphones, and a land line telephone.

I hooked the two microphones into the mixer to collect sound from the party, hooked the headphones into the mixer to receive the sound, and then duck taped the headphones to the telephone receiver.  I then called Washington, D.C., and they listened to the sound through the telephone call.  D.C. got the signal and told me it was the best signal they ever received from Cambodia! It worked!”


Gordon Burnett is a Production Engineer III at Radio Free Asia.  He has been with the service for nearly two decades, has done extensive work for RFA in Cambodia, and assisted in the design and implementation of RFA’s current video capability. Gordon also functions as Video Production Coordinator and Lead Trainer.

Today is Radio Free Asia’s anniversary! On March 12, 1994 Radio Free Asia was founded under the provisions of the 1994 International Broadcasting Act, as a private non-profit corporation. The original legislation called on RFA to carrying out radio broadcasting to the People’s Republic of China, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, North Korea, Tibet and Vietnam.

The functions of RFA were established to:

1) Provide accurate and timely information, news and commentary about events in the respective countries of Asia and elsewhere; and
2) To be a forum for a variety of opinions and voices from within Asian nations.

The original legislation also expressly obligated the government to “respect the professional independence and journalistic integrity of the broadcasters.” The Broadcasting Board of Governors implemented the firewall policies that remain in place to this day.