The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) employee union, AFGE Local 1812, has posted on its website a number of commentaries on the crisis at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) brought about by the actions of its outgoing president Steven Korn and his closest associates. They include RFE/RL vice president of content Julia Ragona, vice president of administration Dale Cohen, and the new director of Radio Liberty Russian Service Masha Gessen. Together, they managed to make Radio Liberty an enemy of the entire human rights and political opposition movement in Russia and to alienate the majority of the station’s supporters.
Korn, who was selected for his position by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, claims he is resigning on his own for personal reasons. But BBG Watch and other media report that he was forced to resign by the BBG and stripped of authority to fire any more RFE/RL employees.
Korn ordered the firing of dozens of Radio Liberty’s best journalists so that Masha Gessen could bring in her own team composed of her friends and associates. Most of them are completely unknown in Russia, unlike the star journalists who were fired. After they were suddenly dismissed without any warning, they were not permitted by RFE/RL management to say good bye to their radio and online audience of many years.
AFGE Local 1812 does not represent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty employees. They have a different employment status than BBG employees in the United States. Most of RFE/RL employees are based overseas.
But the union representing BBG’s federal employees is taking a keen interest in the events in Prague and in Moscow out of union and professional solidarity, but also because the same BBG executives who have oversight over RFE/RL also manage the Voice of America (VOA) and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB). These executives were responsible for formulating BBG’s strategic plans. To what degree they take direction from part-time board members and what degree they pursue their own agenda is a matter of some dispute, but the BBG employee union believes strongly that the blame for many of the things that went wrong with U.S. international broadcasting falls on this group of BBG officials. In the opinion of many critics, they failed to advise BBG members on the right course of action and failed to warne them about serious risks and looming crises.
BBG Watch is reposting several recent commentaries from the AFGE Local 1812 website which compare management decisions at RFE/RL with actions of the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives, under the directorship of Richard Lobo, which affect the work of VOA and OCB.
Letter To Mr. Korn Evokes Problems Similar To VOA’s
by American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1812
In his Open Letter to former to RFE/RL President and CEO Steven Korn , as posted on the web site BBG Watch (see below for link, excerpts), respected Russian journalist Andrei Babitsky makes comments that we at AFGE Local 1812 thought were eerily similar to those our membership has made these past 10 years.
In his letter, Mr. Babitsky notes that in its obsession with promoting TV, management, whether it is at RFE/RL or VOA, has forgotten that the mission of our agencies is to promote ideas: freedom, human rights, the rule of law, democracy. Disgracefully, at the Agency, the medium has become the message, and the message has disappeared in a wave of superficial fluff because management still denies it should concern itself with the Agencies’ missions.
There is little we can add to Mr.Babitsky’s remarks (see below). Like RFE/RL, VOA is not, and has never been, “in a position to become a TV station, because we don’t have enough financial resources for that.” What’s the point of airing TV stories of mediocre quality when you could and should continue superb radio programs that would reach larger audiences?
What VOA must continue to do, if management ever allows it again to fulfill its Congressionally-mandated mission, is to “promote ideas, something the rulers of those countries to which we broadcast do not want to accept, as well as their societies”.
As our membership well knows, in order to fulfill their illogical pipe dream of turning VOA into a new CNN, Agency managers have renounced proven broadcasting technologies, eliminated experienced journalists and replaced hard substantive stories with soft inconsequential ones. Meanwhile, an enormous amount of resources, money and time has been allocated to TV stories that can’t compete with private sector ones, Twitter/SMS messages that are too short to mean anything and web programming that can easily be blocked by unfriendly countries. With new budget cuts pending, worse may be yet to come: more cuts to the workforce actually putting together program content, while managers hire ever more “special assistants” to promote their meaningless stories. In other words, the Potemkin village still goes up, while behind, the foundation on which VOA was founded – its journalists – is crumbling. But as long as the Agency has PR staff to present a smiling face to the world, management hopes no one will notice.
That was the case with the Russian service of RFE/RL. The service has crumbled, but Mr. Korn got to spend taxpayers’ money and is now retiring to Atlanta for “private including family reasons”, not because he destroyed one of the finest tools of U.S. public diplomacy in Russia.
From day one, VOA’s current management has self-righteously convinced itself it is right, and employees are wrong. We’ve been called many things: lethargic, complacent, resistant to new technologies – you name it, it’s been said. Management has had no qualms to casting aside (in the media) experienced employees as a nuisance (that should be) systematically replacing them, as fast as feasible, with younger contractors, preferably of foreign origin so they can be utterly pliable and vulnerable to its whims.
Read Andrei Babitsky’s comments to Mr. Korn. And then, reflect on how, sadly, the situation is no better at VOA.
Dear Mr. Korn,
…….”Let me say a few words concerning those false and stupid myths, with which you tried to deceive others and by which you were fascinated yourself. There are no multimedia technologies that could help the corporation become more effective in promoting its mission. We are not in a position to become a TV station, because we don’t have enough financial resources for that. People talking in front of a camera do not make TV. A shot out from the crowd is not TV, even radio broadcasts hastily transformed into video format are not TV. TV is a very expensive technological process, difficult to produce. That does not mean however that we must fold our hands. The media by which you deliver information are important, but they are not a must. Yes, TV has more impact on the masses, this is obvious. A picture always attracts a preponderant audience, because the image does not require such a difficult processing as text does. A picture requires minimal interpretation. It delivers immediately an enormous amount of information – people, atmosphere, landscape, color, motion, and so on. But as far as its capacity to deeply penetrate into the essence of something is concerned, it is often difficult for an image to compete with text. We are not Hollywood after all. We don’t have to earn millions on a successful visual story. We promote ideas, something the rulers of those countries to which we broadcast do not want to accept, as well as their societies, which is more unpleasant. And an image is not always the best vehicle to deliver these ideas.
Picture does not call up for keeping one’s own dignity, love of freedom, giving up cruelty, searching for peace. As the history of culture shows it was the text, not spectacles, that serves as the most efficient reminder of the truth. This is exactly why we still value the Holy Scriptures in their narrative form, not as a TV picture.
Mr. Korn, God created this world through his word and through meaning. Logos is a concept that has different interpretations. Had he created the world though pictures, we would live today in a giant comic book.