BBG Watch Commentary
Member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Ambassador Victor Ashe, the U.S. federal agency which funds and oversees Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), said that Masha Gessen’s claims made to the Russian media about the BBG and Radio Liberty’s Russian Service are “stunning” and “totally untrue.” Gessen was appointed last September by RFE/RL president and CEO Steven Korn to lead the Russian Service.
According to sources, at a meeting in Washington on Friday the BBG had asked Korn to resign within 45 days for creating a crisis at RFE/RL and for alienating human rights leaders and supporters of U.S. international broadcasting in Russia and in the United States. In an exclusive story, quoting anonymous sources at the BBG headquarters in Washington, BBG Watch also reported that Korn was stripped by BBG members of his authority to fire RFE/RL employees. These decisions have not been publicly announced by the BBG.
Ambassador Ashe was responding to Ms. Gessen’s interviews with Russian media (Lenta.ru, “Маша Гессен опровергла инспекцию на “Радио Свобода“), in which she denied that the BBG had ordered an inspection of the Russian Service. According to her, the presentation of the strategy for the development of the Russian Service, which she made at a panel discussion on Russia held by the BBG in Washington on December 13, “was received very positively.”
In a Russian media interview, Masha Gessen also criticized Ann Noonan, executive director of the independent, nonpartisan Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org), who spoke at the BBG meeting on Friday as a member of the public and criticized the firing of Radio Liberty journalists in Russia and Kazahstan. Noonan mentioned specifically the dismissal of two Moscow employees with disabilities and the non-renewal of employment contract of a young Kazakh woman journalist who complained about the posting of offensive, sexually suggestive videos on RFE/RL websites.
Gessen also criticized BBG Watch and its practice of using anonymous sources. It is strange that the head of the Radio Liberty service charged with facilitating free media reporting in countries with state censorship would object to an independent website using anonymous sources. She should know that just as people in Russia, RFE/RL employees cannot afford to speak openly without risking being fired by Mr. Korn and his deputies, Julia Ragona and Dale Cohen.
Ambassador Ashe issued the following statement:
“The review of RFE/RL Moscow by Deputy IBB (International Broadcasting Bureau) Director Jeff Trimble is designed to get to the bottom of the controversial decisions made in Moscow by RFE/RL management. I hope the review will take far less than six months. Time is urgent.”
“If Ms. Gessen feels her tenure and actions are not part of the review then she is mistaken,” Ashe said. “Trimble has direction to turn over all the rocks and get to the bottom of this. A serious review has to deal with her involvement in this and what responsibility she bears. We also need to review the current path RFE/RL is on and whether it fulfils our mission. We hope Trimble can do this in the near future as we cannot let this be ignored or forgotten. The full Board needs the facts and a recommended course of action.”
“While I do not speak for my colleagues, I truly believe they want an objective assessment of what happened and this includes nothing being off limits. They want Jeff Trimble to report back on what happened, lessons learned as well as way forward. I really wonder if Ms. Gessen was listening carefully to the discussion when she makes these claims.” Ashe added.
“I cannot speak for the Board as to how they received Ms. Gessen’s report at the RFE/RL Board meeting but it did not convince me that all is well. My misgivings and strong disagreement with the firings were not resolved by her comments. It is hard to believe she did not know about them in advance and concurred with them.”