Lyudmila Alexeyeva

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, photo by Владимир Липка (Vladimir Lipka)

BBG Watch Commentary

Reports in Russian media say that a letter of protest sent to the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Congress, which was signed by Russia’s most famous human rights leaders, condemns the management of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) for engineering a mass firing of Radio Liberty journalists in Moscow. The signatories of the letter include such giants of the Russian human rights movement as Lyudmila Alexeeva, Chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group; Sergei Kovalyov, Chairman of the Russian human rights group “Memorial”; writer Vladimir Bukovsky, a former political prisoner in the Soviet Union; and Tatiana Yankelevich, daughter of Elena Bonner who was the wife of Andrei Sakharov. Правозащитникам не хватает «Свободы»
Российские правозащитники вступились за «Радио Свобода» перед Клинтон in Gazeta.ru; Российские правозащитники просят конгресс США вернуть «Свободу» в радиоэфир in Gazeta.ru

The letter notes that Radio Liberty will stop broadcasting on a medium wave frequency in Moscow at the moment when the regime of Vladimir Putin launched a new attack on the freedom of speech and democratic movements in Russia, threatens human rights organizations with accusations of being foreign agents and forces USAID, a U.S. government agency, to stop its humanitarian work by calling it interference in Russia’s politics.

A new Russian media law has prevented Radio Liberty from using the leased medium wave frequency in Moscow. But critics charge that Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) management did nothing to prepare for it and refused offers of medium wave radio broadcasts to European Russia from the Baltic states. Instead, while spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on expanding the physical space of the Radio Liberty bureau in Moscow, RFE/RL management suddenly called dozens of Russian Service journalists to the office of a law firm in Moscow and told them they were fired. The employees were offered severance pay. Many of those fired were responsible for preparing successful and highly-praised online content, even though RFE/RL management claims that it wants to expand its new media outreach in Russia. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a U.S. federal agency, and funded by the U.S. Congress.

Russian media reports speculate that RFE/RL President Steven Korn and his deputy Julia Ragona wanted to clear house before their newly selected director of the Russian Service, opposition writer, journalist and gay rights activist Masha Gessen was to start working on October 1. Gessen said that some Russian media reports on her future employment at RFE/RL and the firings were slanderous. Journalists in Russia are afraid of such accusations after President Putin signed in July a new law which has returned the slander article to the criminal code with the maximum fine of 5 mln rubles (approximately $160,000).

Leaders of Russia’s human rights movement described the mass firing of most of the staff of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service Moscow bureau as a “special operation,” calling it “shameful and abusive.” They also said that the President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Steven Korn and his deputy Julia Ragona have done more damage to the reputation of Radio Liberty and the image of the United States in Russia than the KGB.

“Reorganization of Radio Liberty work was carried out in a form of ‘special operation’ that was shameful and abusive for its employees. The KGB could not harm the image of the radio and the United States in Russia as did US managers – the President of the Radio Liberty Steven Korn and the Vice President Julia Ragona,” the letter states.

The letter also points out that some Radio Liberty journalists who had not been fired have resigned in protest to show solidarity with their dismissed colleagues.

Prior to the publication of the letter of protest from human rights leaders in Russia, RFE/RL President Steven Korn issued a statement on changes to RFE/RL’s Radio Svoboda (Radio Liberty), in which he said: “We want to assure you that despite what you may have heard or read, we are not giving up on our commitment to provide you with Svoboda’s unique perspective on news and events in Russia. But big changes are indeed under way.” He also said: “Though we have said good-bye to some of our journalists and other colleagues, we are thankful to have had the benefit of their creativity and dedication over the years and hope they will continue to contribute their voices and ideas to the public forum.”

One Russia expert wrote that “the message from RFE/RL President Steve Korn —“Welcome to the new Radio Liberty!”— had the distinctive sound of a mockery.” Putin Critics Slam ‘Ludicrous Reset’ as US Silences Radio Liberty by Vladimir Kara-Murza in World Affairs Journal.

The signatories the protest letter ask the U.S. Congress to set up a special commission to investigate the activities of the management of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and to review their decisions. The letter is addressed to the committees of the U.S. Congress responsible for international relations as well as to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Benjamin Cardin (D – MD).

“We ask the Congress to set up a special commission to investigate the activities of the Radio Liberty’s management, which caused such damage to the image of the United States in Russia and review the decisions that have been made.”

Sources told BBG Watch that Lyudmila Mikhailovna Alexeeva — a Russian historian, human rights activist, founding member of the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group, and one of the few veterans of the Soviet dissident movement still active in modern Russia — plans to deliver the protest letter to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

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Unofficial English Translation provided by the organizers of the protest:

To the International Committee of the U.S. Congress
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Senator Benjamin Cardin
September 27, 2012

Dear Mr. Cardin, dear Ms. Clinton,

Dear Sirs,

We deeply regret to officially note that, following the decision of the management, Radio Liberty stops its medium- wave broadcasts.

It has been done at the moment, when the regime of Vladimir Putin launched a new attack on the freedom of speech and democratic movements in Russia. Human rights organizations are declared “foreign agents”, USAID stops its work in Russia.

Radio Liberty has existed for more than 60 years and for the whole generations of 1960- 80th was a source of accurate information. Current situation in Russia looks more and more like USSR. Current domestic and foreign policy is determined by people, who came from KGB and it is becoming clear, that we cannot lose the traditions of the station, which has always been taking very active civil position based on the universal values ​​of freedom, democracy and human rights. In today’s Russia all these values are being attacked by the government.

Reorganization of Radio Liberty work was carried out in a form of shameful and abusive for its employees “special operation”. Any KGB could not harm the image of the radio and the United States in Russia as did US managers- the President of the Radio Liberty Steven Korn and the vice- president Julia Ragona.

They have ignored BBG’s (Broadcasting Board of Governors) findings confirming the effective work of the Russian service of Radio Liberty (http://www.bbg.gov/wp-content/media/2012/02/FY-2013-BBG-Congressional-Budget-Request-FINAL-2-9-12-Small.pdf). The team of journalists, who used to create radio and internet contents, a team, that used to bring hundreds of thousands of spectators of democratic rallies broadcasts in 2011-2012 is dismissed.

Mr. Korn and Ms. Ragona’s staffing solutions were conducted without even slightest consideration of the creative contribution and potential of each employee. Dismissed are the professionals with stainless reputations. Some of the journalists have left Moscow office of Radio Liberty deliberately on moral grounds.

Additionally a new head of the Russian service is assigned a person, who received negative assessment as a manager at her previous jobs. A person never previously engaged in a kind of work offered by the Radio Liberty.

Mass dismissals of journalists have disorganized the work of the broadcast and the work of the radio’s website for extended period.

Scandalous publication about the activities of American management team of the radio appeared in Russian and foreign press. The managers themselves could not explain its decisions to the Russian society. These decisions look very strange, while the financing or the Russian service for years 2012- 2013 has not been reduced, but in fact even increased.

From now on, every time Russian authorities will decide to close one or another independent media, they will refer to for them very convenient “experience” of the management of Radio Liberty.

We do not have any information about a new concept of multimedia portal that was proposed instead of public over- the –air and internet broadcasting and we are concerned that this new concept might be contradictory to the goals and missions established by the US Congress and BBG and to the goals and missions of Radio Liberty in Russia.

We ask the Congress to set up a special commission to investigate the activities of the Radio Liberty’s management, which caused such damage to the image of the United States in Russia and review the decisions that have been made.

With kind regards,

Lyudmila Alexeeva, Chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Sergei Kovalyov, Chairman of the Russian “Memorial”, the chairman of the Public Commission for the Preservation of the Heritage of Academician Sakharov — Andrei Sakharov Foundation

Vladimir Bukovsky, Writer, a former political prisoner in the Soviet Union

Tatiana Yankelevich, Center Associate, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, daughter of Elena Bonner and Andrei Sakharov

Pavel Litvinov, a former political prisoner in the Soviet Union

Alexei Simonov, the President of the Glasnost Defense Foundation

Lev Ponomarev, Executive Director of the Russian movement “For Human Rights”

Lilia Shibanova, Executive Director of the Association of Non-Profit Organizations “In Defense of Voters’ Rights «GOLOS»“

Valeriy Borzshov, the rights advocate, the member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Svetlana Gannushkina, the human rights activist, who was reported to have been a serious contender for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize

В Международный комитет Конгресс США
Госсекретарю США Хилари Клинтон
Сенатору Бенджамину Кардину
27 сентября 2012 года

Уважаемые Дамы и Господа!
Мы должны с сожалением констатировать: по решению менеджмента Радио Свобода прекращает вещание в России на средних волнах.

Сделано это в тот момент, когда режим Владимира Путина начал новое наступление на свободу слова в России и демократическое движение, правозащитные организации объявлены «иностранными агентами», прекращается работа в России USAID.

Радио Свобода существует уже более 60 лет, и для целых поколений 1960-80 годов была источником правдивой информации. Нынешняя ситуация в России все больше напоминает СССР. Современную внутреннюю и внешнюю политику России определяют люди, вышедшие из КГБ. И сегодня совершенно ясно, что нельзя терять традиции станции, которая занимала активную гражданскую позицию, опираясь на универсальные ценности свободы, демократии и прав человека. Как раз эти ценности сегодня в России атакуются властью.

Реорганизация работы РС проведена в режиме постыдной и оскорбительной для сотрудников силовой спецоперации. Никакому КГБ не удалось навредить имиджу РС, да и США в России так, как это сделали американские менеджеры – президент РС Стив Корн и вице-президент Джулия Рагона.

Ими были проигнорированы выводы BBG (Broadcasting Board of Governors) об эффективности работы русской службы РС (http://www.bbg.gov/wp-content/media/2012/02/FY-2013-BBG-Congressional-Budget-Request-FINAL-2-9-12-Small.pdf). Уволена команда журналистов, создававшая радио и интернет-контент, собиравшая сотни тысяч зрителей трансляций демократических митингов 2011-2012 годов.

Кадровые решения С.Корна и Дж.Рагоны были приняты без малейшего учета творческого вклада и потенциала каждого сотрудника. Уволены профессионалы с безупречной репутацией. Часть журналистов сама покинула московский офис РС по моральным соображениям.

При этом Директором русской службы РС назначается человек, получивший как менеджер негативные оценки на прошлых местах работы, кроме того, никогда не занимавшийся ранее тем, что сейчас ему предложено на РС.
Массовые увольнения журналистов на длительный период дезорганизовали вещание и работу сайта Радио.
В российской и зарубежной прессе появились скандальные публикации о деятельности американского менеджмента Радио. Сами руководители РС не смогли объяснить российской общественности свои решения, которые выглядят странно, так как финансирование Русской службы РС в 2012-2013 году не сокращено, а даже фактически увеличено.

Теперь, когда власти России будут в очередной раз закрывать то или иное независимое СМИ, они будут ссылаться на полезный для них «опыт» менеджеров Радио Свобода.
Нам неизвестна новая форма мультимедиа-портала, предложенная вместо общественного вещания в эфире и в интернете, и нас тревожит, не противоречит ли она закрепленным в решениях Конгресса США и BBG задачам Радио Свобода и ее миссии на территории РФ.

Мы просим Конгресс США создать комиссию для расследования деятельности менеджмента Радио Свобода, нанесшего ущерб имиджу США в России, и пересмотреть принятые решения.

С уважением,

Людмила Алексеева, председатель Московской Хельсинской группы

Сергей Ковалев, председатель российского общества “Мемориал”, председатель Общественной Комиссии по наследию академика Андрея Сахарова

Владимир Буковский, бывший политзаключенный в СССР, писатель

Татьяна Янкелевич, Center Associate, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, дочь Елены Боннэр и Андрея Сахарова

Павел Литвинов, бывший политзаключенный в СССР

Алексей Симонов, президент Фонда защиты гласности

Лев Пономарев, исполнительный директор Всероссийского движения “За права человека”

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