BBG Watch Commentary

In an article published in National Review Online, Mario Corti and Ted Lipien argue that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) executives have mislead the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and the American public on the circumstances and the reasons for the mass firing of Radio Liberty journalists in Moscow.

The authors state that contrary to the assertions from RFE/RL president Steven Korn that the journalists were respectfully, fairly and generously treated, there is abundant evidence that they were coerced by security guards, humiliated and given no choice but to sign their termination documents, and were not allowed to say good bye to their audience of many years.

Corti and Lipien cite a letter written to the Broadcasting Board of Governors by fired Radio Liberty journalist Veronika Bode. Many other Radio Liberty journalists have also written to the BBG describing the humiliating treatment they were subjected to by RFE/RL executives. They have also sent letters to the White House, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of Congress.

Mario Corti is an Italian journalist and Russian-speaking writer whose books have been published in Russia. He is a former director of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service.

Ted Lipien is an American journalist, media expert and writer. He is a former Voice of America acting associate director and was in charge of marketing and program distribution for the BBG, including Russia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Corti and Lipien point out in their National Review article that RFE/RL executives mislead the BBG into believing that Radio Liberty journalists were resistant to change and not capable of doing digital media when in fact Radio Liberty had one of the most advanced multimedia news website in Russia with live video streaming and social media outreach, while new employees brought on board by the new Russian Service director Masha Gessen lack such skills. They also note that RFE/RL executives fired almost the entire highly-talented and praised Radio Liberty Internet team to clean house for the new director who later accused independent journalists of slandering her for suggesting a link between her appointment and the dismissals. She had previously worked as a consultant for RFE/RL. Kremlin officials use accusations of slander and the new anti-libel law signed by President Putin to stifle investigative reporting in Russia.

The authors also take issue with RFE/RL executives’ position that they did everything to keep Radio Liberty on the air in Moscow. Corti and Lipien explain the new Russian media law does not prevent the Voice of America from broadcasting in Moscow and that Radio Liberty could have asked for using the VOA affiliate or found other arrangements. They argue that RFE/RL management and the BBG in Washington have capitulated to President Putin. Radio Liberty will continue to broadcast on shortwave, but it’s not clear for how long since the best broadcasters are gone.

The article lists numerous protests against the actions of RFE/RL executives from prominent Russian political leaders and scholars, including former president Mikhail Gorbachev, former reform-minded prime minister and deputy prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Boris Nemtsov, Professor Vladimir Shlapentokh (Michigan State) and a group of legendary human rights activists led by Lyudmila Alexeeva.

Corti and Lipien also take issue with RFE/RL president’s argument that Radio Liberty was overstaffed and had too many reporters covering Putin’s Russia. They point out that some of the best independent journalists in Russia were unceremoniously dismissed and that Radio Liberty has lost its reputation and credibility. It appears highly unlikely that prominent independent journalists in Russia will want to work for Ms. Gessen after what happened to their colleagues. It is also unlikely that democratic opposition leaders and human rights activists will associate with the station as they did in the past.

Corti and Lipien conclude that “Steve Korn and Masha Gessen are not launching a digital revolution. Instead, they have created a weapon of mass destruction that has vaporized Radio Liberty in Russia and damaged America’s reputation everywhere.”

Read: Silenced by Washington – Mass firings have ended the distinguished history of Radio Liberty in Russia – by Mario Corti and Ted Lipien, National Review Online, Oct. 23, 2012

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