Led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, the Current Time digital network is a signature 2016 accomplishment of the BBG, providing millions of Russian-speaking viewers in Russia, neighboring countries, and around the world with informed and up-close TV coverage of major news and events that are not reported, or are misreported, elsewhere. The network focuses foremost on news, but also offers a rich mix of feature and entertainment programming that underscores the values of free and open societies.
RFE/RL produces the daily news shows Current Time Europe and Current Time Asia; top-of-the-hour briefs; a daily political talk show, The Timur Olevsky Hour; a fact-checking show, See Both Sides, which juxtaposes video reports produced by pro-Kremlin media outlets with those distributed by Western media on the same events; and a feature program on Russia’s unheralded places and people, Unknown Russia. The channel also includes selected programming from RFE/RL’s Russian, Moldovan, and Ukrainian Services, as well as content produced by Current Time regional affiliates and by outside producers.
VOA’s Current Time America is a daily, hour-long Russian-language newscast providing news headlines, in-depth interviews with newsmakers, features focusing on American life, thought and institutions, and American official and expert perspectives on developments and issues of interest to the target audience.
Current Time’s television content is complemented by a strong digital reporting unit that engages and connects with Russian-speaking audiences via all major social media platforms, including producing platform-specific reporting for digital as well as expanding the research of Current Time TV products.
Current Time’s programming is accurate, factual, timely and entertaining—a reality check on disinformation that drives conflict and distrust.
Voice of America expanded its fact-based programming in Russian, including business and finance programming from New York and production of stories in several bureaus throughout the United States. The investment also strengthened the Service’s ability to provide live coverage for Russian-language affiliates, including for the first time a major TV station in Belarus. Resources were added for expansion of VOA Russian digital media efforts, coverage of breaking news developments and creation of social media videos designed to address misreporting about America. These included Briefing, a daily digest of stories trending on American social media platforms, and Lexicon, a digital series explaining U.S. political process and vocabulary.
Making dramatic strides in video production in 2016, RFE/RL’s Russian Service produced more than 40 short documentaries for its new Signs of Life video series. Supported by superior production values, the series features compelling human-interest stories and demonstrates how politics touches Russians’ everyday lives. Ten short films from the series were shown at the ArtDocFest international documentary film festival in Moscow.
Additionally, to mark the 25th anniversary since the collapse of the USSR, RFE/RL’s Russian Service, in partnership with RFE/RL Ukrainian, Georgian and Kyrgyz Services, produced the video documentary After the Empire, a compilation of five personal stories from throughout the former Soviet Union.
In late 2015, RFE/RL launched an experimental newswire in the Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Uzbek, and Russian languages for Central Asia to provide objective and easily republishable news items to media outlets seeking content in the region. In 2016, more than 700 media outlets and media professionals subscribed to the service. Expanding RFE/RL’s partnership network in the region allows RFE/RL to help foster a positive, pluralistic information environment in a region otherwise subject to extremist and anti-democratic media.
VOA Ukrainian launched Chat-Time, a digital-first extension of its signature TV program, Chas-Time. Three days a week, VOA Ukrainian reporters and TV hosts offer explainers, expanded interviews with VIP newsmakers and guide viewers through the most important news developments. By leveraging Facebook Live to provide verified and credible news to a wider and younger audience, VOA reaches 5.4 million adults in Ukraine every week.
In January 2016, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service launched a daily, one-hour radio show for the occupied Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. The broadcast, called Radio Donbas.Realii, was first streamed online and via satellite; in February, the program started to air on FM waves via radio towers and, in July, also via mobile transmitters sponsored by the Ukrainian government.
RFE/RL Georgian Service, in cooperation with Georgian public television, launched a weekly TV show entitled InterVIEW, which features hard-hitting 30-minute interviews with politicians and newsmakers, including the speaker of parliament, several cabinet ministers and former PM and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. In the run-up to October elections in Georgia, the show ran twice a week as Georgian public television’s main election program, featuring interviews with the leaders of all political parties competing in the election.
VOA Georgian reached 8.1 percent of the country’s adults weekly, having expanded its special live TV interactives with three major national networks. The weekly programs provided U.S. perspectives on Russia’s regional aggression, including interviews with U.S. Congress members, think tanks, and more.
VOA’s Balkan services significantly expanded their coverage across broadcast and digital platforms focusing on Russian propaganda in the region. VOA Serbian produced a documentary series about the Kremlin’s influence in Serbia.
RFE/RL’s Balkan Service investigated and produced a documentary project about Russia’s deployment of its “soft power” in Serbia, in order to prevent the country’s accession into the European Union and demonize cooperation with NATO. Follow-up reporting included an exclusive story that confirmed links between officials in Moscow and two people of Serbian origin accused of organizing the attempted coup in Montenegro on October 16, 2016.
“Ukrainians who want to learn more about real life in Russia can draw information from [Current Time]. In programs like Unknown Russia, Signs of Life, and Russia & Me, it’s possible to see the real, and not fabricated, country.”
– Inna Dolzhenkova, in an article for Detector Media
With disinformation and misinformation extending their global reach in 2016, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty teamed up to offer a new fact-checking resource. Polygraph.info, a globally aware and nonpartisan website, is a timely response to the deluge of often false or misleading information confounding audiences around the world.
“Polygraph.info addresses the public demand for professionally verified information, and will power a range of RFE/RL and VOA news coverage that will report the truth,” said RFE/RL President Thomas Kent. “It separates fact from fiction, adds context, and debunks lies, blunting the destructive effects of disinformation and helping audiences make informed choices and decisions,” said VOA Director Amanda Bennett.
Polygraph.info’s team of RFE/RL and VOA journalists researches and analyzes statements from government officials and other high-profile individuals to assess their veracity. The site currently focuses on statements involving relations between Russia and the West, but its analysis will expand to other areas of the world.