BBG Watch is posting under its “60 RL” series historical and current news to commemorate the 60 anniversary of Radio Liberty, which falls on March 1. While the current crisis at Radio Liberty has not yet been resolved, the Broadcasting Board of Governors has appointed distinguished journalist Kevin Klose to lead Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) for one year and he has met in Moscow with fired Radio Liberty journalists and with leading Russian human rights and democratic political figures.
This BBG Watch article was first published on December 3, 2012 before changes in the top leadership at RFE/RL.
Former RFE/RL News Director Terry Willey comments on dismissal of Radio Liberty journalists
Terry Willey was Director of the News and Current Affairs Division at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). In 1981 she witnessed the bombing of the RFE/RL building in Munich organized by an international terrorist Carlos the Jackal on orders from Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Terry Willey saved the life of one of the severely wounded Czechoslovak Service broadcasters Maria Pulda by driving her to a hospital rather than waiting for an ambulance.
One of Radio Liberty broadcasters mentioned by Terry Willey in her letter sent to BBG Watch is Mikhail Sokolov, a prominent Russian political journalist who helped RFE/RL receive a broadcast license from President Yeltsin and permission to open a news bureau in Moscow. Willey refers to that event in his letter. Sokolov was unceremoniously fired by the RFE/RL management in September together with more than 30 other journalists, web editors and media specialists who worked at the Radio Liberty Moscow bureau. Several other Radio Liberty journalists resigned in protest against the brutal treatment of their colleagues.
Willey ends her letter, “having spent more than two decades devoted to appealing for the rights of Soviet dissidents, I never would have thought I would see the day when Mikhail Gorbachev and noted human rights activists would be appealing for the rights of Radio Liberty employees.”
Dismissal of RL Moscow Bureau employees
I am writing as a long-time employee of RFE/RL. I joined Radio Liberty in 1971 as a news evaluator and then became an editor in RFE’s Central News Desk when the two stations were merged five years later. I subsequently became Assistant News Director, News Director and then Director of the News and Current Affairs Division. During my 24 years at RFE/RL I saw many changes, both in our target countries and in our American management. Although our American managers came and went, the core of our radios were the valiant broadcasters who devoted their lives to the cause of their countries. They knew their people, their history and cared deeply about their countries’ future.
I remember the signature moment when Radio Liberty was granted permission to open an office in Moscow and the role that Mikhail Sokolov played. And later, when I visited our new Moscow bureau, I was thrilled to see these young Russian journalists, brimming with idealism and dedication, finally able to report in freedom.
I know nothing about the decision to terminate these fine journalists but I am frankly apalled at the apparently callous manner in which they were dismissed. And having spent more than two decades devoted to appealing for the rights of Soviet dissidents, I never would have thought I would see the day when Mikhail Gorbachev and noted human rights activists would be appealing for the rights of Radio Liberty employees.
Former Director, News and Current Affairs Division, RFE/RL