Puzzling press release from RFE/RL about its Moscow bureau

BBG Watch Commentary

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), a U.S. taxpayer-funded international media outlet based in Prague, Czech Republic and reporting to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in Washington, has issued a highly puzzling press release about its bureau in Moscow and news operations in Russia.

The press release describes “pressure tactics” by Kremlin controlled media outlet NTV against RFE/RL’s Moscow bureau administrator but does not mention her name.

“Nenad Pejic, RFE/RL editor in chief, called the incident ‘a disgusting example of intimidation,’ and said that ‘authorities in Russia appear to be preparing a case against us because of our journalism’,” the RFE/RL press release said.

The press release also said that “the incident comes one week after an edition of the popular television program News Of The Week With Dmitry Kiselyov, the Kremlin’s lead propagandist, portrayed RFE/RL journalists as spies conspiring against Russia.”

If President Putin is planning a new move against RFE/RL in Russia, which now seems likely, this would require immediate attention from the BBG, its bipartisan board, and BBG’s new CEO and director John Lansing. It might have been better for the BBG to react on its own.

RFE/RL has not had a permanent president for more than two years since the departure of former president Kevin Klose in March 2014. RFE/RL is believed to be in a state of managerial turmoil, declining employee morale and insufficient impact, although it is still doing much better in Russia than the Voice of America (VOA) which is also overseen by the BBG.

The data on RFE/RL’s impact in Russia included in the press release is somewhat deceiving. RFE/RL is not only far behind in reach to Kremlin-run media in Russia, which is to some degree understandable because Radio Liberty is not allowed to broadcast in Russia. Russia’s RT channel broadcasts freely in Europe and in the United States.

But in terms of online traffic and social media outreach, which are not blocked for RFE/RL in Russia by the Russian government (at least not yet), Radio Liberty’s Russian Service is also behind several remaining independent Russian media outlets such as MEDUZA or Rain TV. They beat BBG-funded programs by a wide margin despite their modest budgets compared to millions of dollars spent on RFE/RL and VOA news operations in the former Soviet states. Radio Liberty’s Russian Service, however, is doing much better in online traffic in Russia than VOA’s Russian Service.

The statement in the RFE/RL press release that “in 2015, Radio Svoboda was the second most-cited radio station in Russian social media, according to the Medialogia agency, right behind Ekho Moskvy,” is accurate, but it refers to “radio station” social media citings, not citings of all media outlets. RFE/RL is now a multimedia news organization.

The rank of any news site’s popularity in a specific country is easily calculated on alexa.com, an Amazon.com company, using a combination of average daily visitors to and pageviews on a site from users in a specific country over the past month. The site with the highest combination of visitors and pageviews is ranked #1 in that country. The lower the number, the better the rank.

The site of RFE/RL and VOA new joint Russian-language television program “Current Time” has an incredibly poor rank of 5,386 in Russia and even worse 62,164 global rank, which includes Russia’s periphery. The program is rebroadcast on some TV stations outside of Russia, but it does not seem to attract a massive audience online.

Independent Russian TV channel RAIN TV has a strong rank of 223 in Russia and 3,672 global rank.

Voice of America Russian Service website has a very poor rank of 3,799 in Russia.

Radio Liberty Russian Service website has a much better rank of 402 in Russia.

BBC has an impressive rank of 209 in Russia.

MEDUZA, an independent Russian news website based in Latvia, which operates on a much smaller budget than VOA or RL Russian services, has an even better rank of 178 in Russia.

There has been a recent change in the position of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service director, but RFE/RL still does not have a permanent president.

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Communications / Press Releases

RFE/RL Condemns Pressure Tactics Against Moscow Bureau

March 18, 2016

Radio SvobodaWASHINGTON — On March 18, RFE/RL’s Moscow bureau administrator was approached at her home by two unknown men identifying themselves as journalists with Russia’s NTV channel and seeking personal information.

The men, one of whom had a video camera and sought to film the premises, questioned her repeatedly about her income and properties they said she owned in and around Moscow. One of the men said he had received such information from former employees of the Russian Service. The administrator refused to answer the questions.

Nenad Pejic, RFE/RL editor in chief, called the incident “a disgusting example of intimidation,” and said that “authorities in Russia appear to be preparing a case against us because of our journalism.”

NTV is a Kremlin-controlled channel known for conducting defamation campaigns against independent journalists, opposition journalists, and civil-society activists in Russia.

The incident comes one week after an edition of the popular television program News Of The Week With Dmitry Kiselyov, the Kremlin’s lead propagandist, portrayed RFE/RL journalists as spies conspiring against Russia. During the show, Kiselyov announced that a documentary about U.S. international broadcasting would be forthcoming.

RFE/RL’s Russian Service, known locally as Radio Svoboda, operates out of a Moscow bureau and RFE/RL’s headquarters in Prague.

In 2015, Radio Svoboda was the second most-cited radio station in Russian social media, according to the Medialogia agency, right behind Ekho Moskvy.

Last year, 430 million people visited RFE/RL websites, where they viewed nearly 1 billion pages of original RFE/RL content. Within that audience, RFE/RL’s Russian-language sites provided 266 million pages of content to almost 170 million visitors. RFE/RL Russian-language Facebook pages registered almost 23 million engaged users last year.

About RFE/RL and its Russian Service

RFE/RL is a private, independent international news organization whose programs — radio, Internet, television, and mobile — reach influential audiences in 23 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus. It is funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

RFE/RL’s Russian Service, Radio Svoboda is a multiplatform alternative to state-run media, providing audiences in and around the Russian Federation with timely and balanced news, analysis, and opinion.

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