Commentary by Leon


Behind the Headlines60 Years of Radio Liberty (Svoboda): Coverage as Exercise in Propaganda


By Leon (pen-name of RFE/RL insider)


Imagine: You are an alien who visited Earth on March 1, 2013 and landed in Washington, DC, at 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, 4th Floor, where neatly dressed people talked of some Radio Liberty’s first broadcast to Russia (there is such a country on that planet) that happened 60 years ago. In your travelogue, you’d note: “The Earthlings remained true to their ancient saying, De mortuis nihil nisi bonum (Of the dead, nothing unless good – in the language they use in Washington). Without a trace of criticism, they praised Radio Liberty for the way it was, not saying who heads the Russian Service now, so I concluded that it was a funeral repast for that organization.”


Don’t stretch your imagination anymore. Some of us are working at Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty in Prague and write this letter under  an opaque pen-name because we know very well that those people who did their utmost to do away with the 60-year-old glorious traditions of Radio Liberty, are still there where they used to be: in high places. What we don’t know, is how long the present limbo situation will last under the interim Acting President of RFE/RL, Mr. Kevin Klose, assigned to his post for one year. Will they survive his tenure? Hence, the pen-name.


In the meantime, while Mr. Klose in Washington resolutely  denied that Radio Liberty is practicing propaganda, being rather in “constant iterative search for  “factual reality,” the coverage of Radio Liberty (Radio Svoboda) anniversary by RFE/RL site in English and RL’s site in Russian was propaganda at its worse: relevant facts were not reported, analyses avoided, connections between events absent, names dropped.


Who was in charge of such “content”? At RFE/RL, we want to believe that it was not Kevin Klose himself. Was it someone without journalistic experience elevated by Mr. Klose’s infamous predecessor, Steven Korn?


Indeed, why, in covering the celebratory event of Radio Svoboda, not to mention with pride the names of Lyudmila Telen, Irina Chevtayeva, Kristina Gorelik and Elena Vlasenko, to name just a few, who recently became laureates of honorable journalistic awards in Russia? No reason, save that then comes the question, why these names are not any more associated with the Radio. The answer is: because of a purge, called euphemistically “the restructuring plan,” undertaken last September in Moscow by Steven Korn , Julia Ragona and another Korn vice-president, Dale Cohen, in order to assist their hand-picked appointee, the present Russian Service Director Ms. Masha Gessen, in bringing on board her own team, in radio news journalism  inexperienced.  (Some of those mentioned were not fired but resigned in protest to show solidarity with their colleagues and because they did not want to work for Ms. Gessen. Mr. Korn, Ms. Ragona and Mr. Cohen insist that no one was fired; they all resigned voluntarily and were treated with great respect.)


The rule of propaganda is to preclude, not to provoke, uncomfortable questions. (Ms. Gessen claims she had absolutely nothing to do with the purge, which happened after her appointment was announced but before she officially came on board. She accused those of making such suggestions of slander, which was made a criminal offense in Russia by the Duma and Mr. Putin.)


Why, place on the RFE/RL site an article about Lyudmila Alexeeva, a dean of Russian human rights defenders, who participated in the anniversary celebration held in Washington, but to mention only in passing,  almost as an afterthought at the very end of report, that “Alexeeva was among the leading critics of that (restructuring)plan” ? Well, because another rule of brainwashing is: don’t detract the consumer from the main body of propaganda, feed it to him or her ad nauseam. And sickening it was. The article is called, “Rights Campaigner Recalls 60-Year Friendship With ‘Svoboda’.” Does, however, that friendship continue with the current leadership of the Russian Service ? The answer is no. Why? Because of the purge in Moscow and programming policy changes. But this answer does not fit the propaganda content manual.


Did RFE/RL, an American journalistic  institution financed by the U.S. Congress, sufficiently and honestly inform the visitors of its Internet sites of the fact that over a hundred democratically-minded Russian political and  other public figures, journalists, and simple well-wishers, gathered in the crowded Moscow office of People Freedom Party (ParNaS) and Memorial Human Rights Society at Pyatnickaya Street to express their support for the victims of the purge? That “to support” stands in this case for a demand to bring back the team of fired radio professionals and to restore the most important function of Radio Svoboda: to be politically and socially relevant? No, it did not, again except for a short sentence that a gathering took place. Why? Because the entrenched managerial apparatus of the Radio keeps maintaining that “the restructuring plan” was the right thing — in theory and its implementation — and remains  faithful to the time-tested propaganda rule: “If the facts do not fit to the theory, the worse for the facts.” Never mind that the rule comes not from U.S. Congress, which pays their salaries to support media freedom in Russia, but from Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.


At that gathering of friends, Sergei Kovalyov, the Chairman of Memorial Human Rights Society, has recalled how Kevin Klose recently quoted to him Winston Churchill: “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” Kovalyov’s speech is not to be found on RFE/RL Internet pages. Why? For it’s not celebratory in the propaganda vein. But Sergei Kovalev can be seen and heard on  website of Radio Liberty in Exile, “Novaya Svoboda,” established by the fired Radio Liberty employees. And not Sergei Kovalyov only.


There is quite a number of other “whys” to be asked — and being asked — by my colleagues at the RFE/RL headquarters in Prague.


Why Kevin Klose remains inactive in personnel matters? Does not he understand that such a passivity is demoralizing for all those in Prague and elsewhere who greeted his assignment with great hopes and expectations?


Why no solution for the Moscow public relations and public diplomacy tragedy has been even indicated by him till now, after more than a month of his arrival to Prague?


Why Kevin Klose is silent about settling human rights lawsuits brought by former RFE/RL employees –  an Armenian national Anna Karapetian in the Czech Supreme Court and a Croatian national Snjezana Pelivan in the European Human Rights Court Strasbourg? Does not he realize that the Radio’s foreign staff in Prague, as reflected in these court cases, is discriminated against legally and degraded morally? That  because of actions of RFE/RL, an American public institution, the United States may find defending itself  before  the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva? It’s a common knowledge in Prague. He should  know this too.


This March, nine other language services of Radio Liberty, in addition to the Russian Service, will mark their 60th birthdays. It is up to Mr. Klose to turn their anniversaries into really festive events — without exercises in shameful propaganda. After all, to quote  Aldous Huxley, not Lenin: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”