UPDATE: After the protest from Governor Victor Ashe, the statement of “Governors’ support for Steve Korn’s leadership” has been removed from the BBG website.
BBG Watch Commentary
Reached by phone by an independent reporter who contributes to BBG Watch, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Republican member Governor Victor Ashe said he completely disassociates himself from the just posted official BBG statement, which included the following sentence: “Lynton [BBG Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton] reiterated Governors’ support for Steve Korn’s leadership of RFE/RL in its efforts throughout the region.” Governor Ashe called the mass firing of Radio Liberty Moscow bureau journalists and other staffers “a terrible tragedy” and said the decision should be reversed. He said that after the events in Moscow his confidence in RFE/RL President Korn has been shaken to the core.
Governor Victor Ashe said that he did not hear Governor Lynton make this statement during Thursday’s meeting and would have objected to it if he heard it.
Governor Ashe was quoted by the reporter as saying that the mass firing of Radio Liberty journalists in Moscow and the cancellation of many of their political and human rights programs and the manner in which these dismissals were reportedly conducted have shaken his confidence in Mr. Korn’s leadership to the core.
To imply in the statement that he, as just one member of the BBG, supports Steve Korn’s leadership of RFE/RL in its efforts throughout the region “would be revisionist history,” Ashe was quoted as saying.
Ashe said that he was deeply shaken by the events in Moscow. “For Mr. Korn to say that the whole controversy will soon die down is wishful thinking,” Ashe is quoted as telling the reporter. “It avoids a serious discussion of very serious issues,” Ashe said.
“After the events in Moscow, I deeply worry about the direction in which Radio Liberty is going,” Ashe told the reporter. “Frankly, it will have to take a revision through Congressional oversight to have a mid-course correction,” Ashe said and suggested that Mr. Korn does not listen carefully to any criticism.
Asked about what he would like to say to Radio Liberty journalists fired in Moscow, Ashe said:
“I feel terrible about it. My heart goes out to them. It’s a terrible tragedy. I completely understand their sense of betrayal, but I don’t have have the support of the rest of the Board members to reverse these decisions.”
Asked about his exchange with Mr. Korn during the meeting about the proposed layoffs of Radio Liberty Russian Service staffers in Prague and Mr. Korn’s answer that the number of those who will lose their jobs is between five and twenty, Governor Ashe told the reporter that these layoffs, as well as those in Moscow, are “foolish and self-defeating vis-a-vis Vladimir Putin and his increasingly repressive policies.”
BBG Watch has heard unconfirmed reports that 17 Russian Service employees in Prague will lose their jobs.
BBG Watch Commentary
From the BBG Statement, Oct. 12, 2012:
“Lynton spoke at length of recent Russian legislative steps that have imposed restrictions on freedom of expression, including a law that is forcing RFE/RL programs off of the organization’s last AM affiliate in Moscow. He noted, ‘This board strongly objects to the tightening stranglehold on the free flow of information taking place today in Russia.’ Lynton reiterated Governors’ support for Steve Korn’s leadership of RFE/RL in its efforts throughout the region.”
This part of the statement, just posted, on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) website, especially the last sentence, if it is accurate because we did not hear Mr. Lynton say it, would be a gesture of complete contempt for former President Gorbachev, former Prime Minister Kasyanov, other Russian democratic leaders and human rights activists like Lyudmila Alexxeeva, who have sent appeals and letters of protest to the BBG against the firing of Radio Liberty journalists in Moscow and demanding that they be reinstated and their political and human rights programs resumed.
These prominent Russians all put the blame on the RFE/RL management team headed by Mr. Korn, some also blamed the BBG and the Obama Administration.
It would be a gesture of contempt toward the journalists against whom RFE/RL executives used security guards and prevented them from even saying good bye to their radio listeners and website visitors of many years.
It would be a gesture of contempt toward more than 2000 Radio Liberty listeners who have signed a petition to the BBG in just two days and a copy of which was forwarded to Governor Lynton.
Mr. Lynton had on his cellphone copies of numerous protests and appeals, but he did not acknowledge them in any way.
Furthermore, Mr. Lynton spoke of a new anti-slander law in Russia, signed by Mr. Putin and used by the Kremlin to stifle free speech, even though he had been informed that a new RFE/RL manager in Russia made accusations of slander against pro-democracy journalists.
What we can gather from the BBG statement that, if it is accurate, Mr. Lynton and the other BBG members — now with the exception of Governor Victor Ashe and Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Tara Sonenshine (who was not present at the meeting0 — have a complete contempt for the views of:
Mikhail Gorbachev, former President and Nobel Peace Prize winner:, “Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty’s management decision to dismiss almost all of the Russian service staff looks especially strange in this context” [attacks on glasnost], “It is hard to get rid of an impression that RFE/RL’s American management is prepared to make an about-turn”;
former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov: “We were shocked by the decision of the officials of RFE/RL. This decision will cause tremendous harm to the political media freedom in Russia and therefore we are expressing our deep concern”;
former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov: “The purge in Moscow bureau has badly damaged the reputation of RFE/RL as a free international media working in traditions of democratic standards”;
former Vice Speaker of the Parliament (Duma) Vladimir Ryzhkov: “We recommend the Broadcasting Board of Governors in Washington to revise the RFE/RL management decision and restore medium-wave broadcasting and the Radio Liberty Moscow team”;
Russian United Democratic Party “Yabloko” leaders, former Duma member Sergei Mitrokhin and former presidential candidate Grigory Yavlinsky: “This team made Radio Svoboda website one of the most competent and highly quoted political resources in the Russian segment of the Internet.To the best of our judgment, a bureaucratic mistake took place, which is turning into the other – political – mistake. Bureaucrats supervising mass media were making their narrow decisions, without considering the political consequences, which are indeed political. The Russian audience has lost the information source which it trusted throughout many decades. It is obvious that mass media reputation is the reputation of its journalists.”
former Deputy Energy Minister Vladimir Milov: “You’ve seemingly done all you could so far, demonstrating instead a stunning example of desperate political idiocy. Thanks for making Putin’s life easier, and ours much harder”;
Lyudmila Alexeeva, Chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group: “Reorganization of Radio Liberty work was carried out in a form of ‘special operation’ that was shameful and abusive for its employees. The KGB could not harm the image of the radio and the United States in Russia as did US managers – the President of the Radio Liberty Steven Korn and the Vice President Julia Ragona”;
Sergei Kovalyov, Chairman of the Russian “Memorial”, the chairman of the Public Commission for the Preservation of the Heritage of Academician Sakharov — Andrei Sakharov Foundation: “We ask the Congress to set up a special commission to investigate the activities of the Radio Liberty’s management, which caused such damage to the image of the United States in Russia and review the decisions that have been made”;
Vladimir Bukovsky, writer, a former political prisoner in the Soviet Union: “Mr. Korn and Ms. Ragona’s staffing solutions were conducted without even slightest consideration of the creative contribution and potential of each employee. Dismissed are the professionals with stainless reputations. Some of the journalists have left Moscow office of Radio Liberty deliberately on moral grounds”
Tatiana Yankelevich, Center Associate, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, daughter of Elena Bonner and stepdaughter of Andrei Sakharov: “Today a grave and gross error of judgement is taking place with Radio Liberty,” “Digging an early grave for Radio Liberty”;
Pavel Litvinov, a former political prisoner in the Soviet Union: “Scandalous publication about the activities of American management team of the radio appeared in Russian and foreign press. The managers themselves could not explain its decisions to the Russian society. These decisions look very strange, while the financing or the Russian service for years 2012- 2013 has not been reduced, but in fact even increased”;
Alexei Simonov, the President of the Glasnost Defense Foundation: “Mass dismissals of journalists have disorganized the work of the broadcast and the work of the radio’s website for extended period”;
Lev Ponomarev, Executive Director of the Russian movement “For Human Rights”: “From now on, every time Russian authorities will decide to close one or another independent media, they will refer to for them very convenient “experience” of the management of Radio Liberty”;
Lilia Shibanova, Executive Director of the Association of Non-Profit Organizations “In Defense of Voters’ Rights «GOLOS»;
Valeriy Borzshov, the rights advocate, the member of the Moscow Helsinki Group;
Svetlana Gannushkina, the human rights activist, who was reported to have been a serious contender for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize;
Dr. Vladimir Shlapetokh, renowned sociologist, Michigan State University: “My reaction was perfectly conveyed by Viktor Shenderovich, a leading liberal blogger in Russia, who stated that ‘the KGB and FSB, all ideological departments of the Central Committee of CPSU, all detractors of the West in Putin’s Russia, all of them together’ could not do what Washington did to Radio Liberty”;
Dr. Lev Gudkov, Director of the Levada Center, an independent social research institute in Russia with the rest of the management and employees: “In an authoritarian state, and especially in the period of reaction and ‘crackdown,’ permanent restriction of freedom of speech (which is what is happening now in Russia), it seems extremely untimely to suspend the Radio Liberty broadcasting and to fire its old team. These are people, who advanced the country’s democratic values and human rights. We ask you to consider the situation and conduct a full and thorough investigation into the decisions of the Radio Liberty administration: President Stephen Korn and Vice President Julie Ragona, which resulted in the actual elimination of the radio in Russia”;
2000 Radio Liberty listeners who have signed a petition in just two days: “We demand that the fired ￼journalists be hired back. Probably the journalists, who quit Radio Svoboda to show solidarity with their colleagues, will then come back,” “Almost all Moscow bureau journalists, specializing in democracy and human rights ￼issues, were fired in just two days with no clear explanation. They just
￼disappeared, without even having a chance to say good-bye to their listeners. The ￼dismissal was so indecent that those who were not fired decided to quit. We still do ￼not know the names of those who were hired instead of the former workers. We have no proof that Radio Svoboda will continue its independent policy.”;
Radio Liberty employees who were fired or resigned in protest: “Such methods and style of management – bragging about a new multimedia concept and firing people who succeeded in its implementation and increased RFE/RL Russian Service web audience tenfold; dismissing all journalists, who throughout the last twenty years have become a part of RFE/RL’s brand – all this looks like the worst kind of mismanagement and a gross violation of moral and ethical values.”
Even though the statement of support for RFE/RL President Korn and his leadership was removed, the BBG Governors — with the exception of Governor Ashe, who did express his reservations, and Under Secretary of State Sonenshine, who did not attend the meeting — did not in any way acknowledge these protests, letters and petitions. That shows a lot of arrogance and clear contempt for some very important Russian democratic leaders. The assumption is, therefore, that — with some exceptions — the BBG believes that Mr. Korn knows Russia — its history, culture, politics, and media — far better than any of these Russian opposition leaders, human rights activists, scholars, journalists, media personalities, Radio Liberty listeners and users of its website. The idea that these prominent Russians do not know what they are talking about and Mr. Korn and his American closest advisors do defies reason.
As one young Russian opposition politician Vladimir Milov said to his American friends, “Support Radio Liberty. That’s very simple, easy, and really worth the effort. You’ve completely ignored and disregarded the wise piece of advice. So don’t ask anymore. You’ve seemingly done all you could so far, demonstrating instead a stunning example of desperate political idiocy. Thanks for making Putin’s life easier, and ours much harder.”
How did he know that most BBG members would not even bother to acknowledge his and other protests.
No wonder that the image of arrogant and ugly Americans keeps growing in Russia, even among America’s best friends. Public Diplomacy 101, Anyone?
And if words are not enough, take a look at these photos:
Official BBG Press Release (Original Version)
BBG Condemns Jamming, Intimidation As Threats To Media Freedom
The Broadcasting Board of Governors today expressed its enduring outrage over persistent attempts to stifle the free flow of news and information through satellite jamming, intimidation and the detention of journalists in Iran, Syria, Cambodia, Ethiopia and elsewhere.
During the BBG’s Oct. 11 meeting, Presiding Governor Michael Lynton condemned the jamming of BBG satellite signals in Iran and said BBG journalists are encountering new impediments to free reporting almost daily.
“Just yesterday, Radio Free Asia and Voice of America reporters were summoned to a meeting with officials in a blatant attempt to discourage objective reporting on the Cambodian government,” Lynton said. As reported by Reuters, AFP and others, RFA and VOA…are among the few radio stations in Cambodia considered free of government influence.”
The Board also expressed concern about the cases of Marthe van der Wolf, a VOA reporter in Ethiopia who was forced by local police to erase recordings of a protest rally, and Gulnur Raqifqizi Kazimova, a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) freelancer who was prohibited from taking pictures in Azerbaijan.
Members of the Board renewed their condemnation of recent illegal jamming of BBG Persian broadcasts to Iran that also affected many other BBG radio and TV programs around the globe, including broadcasts in Arabic, Georgian, Armenian, Bosnian, and Korean.
“The Board calls on Iran to cease disrupting broadcast signals, and to respect the well-established international agreements that prohibit jamming,” Lynton said.
The Board also noted that Monday marked 50 days since the capture of Alhurra TV journalist Bashar Fahmi and his cameraman Cüneyt Ünal in Syria, and renewed its demand that the pair be released.
Fahmi and Ünal were last heard from on August 20, when they were reporting from Aleppo, Syria. On August 26th, Ünal appeared on Syrian television, but the Syrian government said it has no information on Fahmi.
Lynton spoke at length of recent Russian legislative steps that have imposed restrictions on freedom of expression, including a law that is forcing RFE/RL programs off of the organization’s last AM affiliate in Moscow. He noted, “This board strongly objects to the tightening stranglehold on the free flow of information taking place today in Russia.” Lynton reiterated Governors’ support for Steve Korn’s leadership of RFE/RL in its efforts throughout the region.
The BBG recognized the David Burke Distinguished Journalism Awards winners. This year’s winners are: Mukarram Khan Aatif of the VOA’s Deewa Radio; Karen Caballero of Radio and TV Martí; Sailab Mahsud of RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal; RFA’s Korean Service; and Mohamed Moawad and Lamia Rezgui Bourogaa of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks’ Radio Sawa.
Several events at the meeting honored the legacy and ongoing work of the Voice of America.
Board members enjoyed a presentation honoring VOA Ethnomusicologist Leo Sarkisian, the creator of Music Time in Africa, VOA’s oldest English-language music program. They presented a resolution expressing the agency’s appreciation to Sarkisian, who retired recently after a career that spanned more than half a century and took him to every country in Africa.
The Board also recognized the 20th anniversary of VOA’s Kurdish Service and the 50th anniversary of its Swahili Service.
Discussion at the meeting included the BBG’s expanded broadcasting reach in China via the Telstar satellite and other developments intended to modernize and extend the reach of the agency and its media worldwide.
Public documents related to this meeting will be posted here, and video of this meeting will be available on-demand shortly.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency, supervising all U.S. government-supported, civilian international broadcasting, whose mission is inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. BBG broadcasts reach an audience of 187 million in 100 countries. BBG networks include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti).