BBG Watch Commentary
Some of the fired journalists were asked by the new management to return to Radio Liberty, others were not.
Exactly one year ago, the previous American management of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) had fired almost the entire Internet team of the Russian Service of Radio Liberty in Moscow together with Mumin Shakirov, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and multimedia journalist, and some radio producers. The firing operation continued on the following day when a number of best known reporters and other producers from Radio Liberty’s radio service in Moscow had also lost their jobs.
This mass firing of some of the best independent journalists in Russia began the worst crisis of the history of the Radio Liberty (Radio Svoboda) and a public diplomacy embarrassment for the United States in Russia and elsewhere, a story that has been well documented by BBG Watch.
Thanks to efforts of many people and organizations — starting with the courageous Radio Liberty journalists themselves who organized Radio Liberty in Exile; human rights leader Lyudmila Alexeeva; former President Mikhail Gorbachev; BBG member Ambassador Victor Ashe; his colleagues Susan McCue, Michael Meehan, and Tara Sonenshine; Ann Noonan and Ted Lipien from CUSIB; journalists Mario Corti and Zygmunt Dzieciolowski, and others, too numerous to mention — the crisis was partially resolved and Radio Liberty’s reputation as a serious independent journalistic institution was largely restored.
Much of the credit goes to Kevin Klose, who was eventually selected by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) as Acting RFE/RL President and later named to a full-time position of chief executive. He was able to sort certain things out and brought back many of the fired Radio Liberty journalists.
“I am reviewing this for history. We have been taught at the Liberty Radio, only facts do count and not our comments.” – Lyudmila Telen, former Internet team leader in the Radio Liberty Russian Service Moscow bureau, current Editor in Chief of Sovershenno Sekretno
Many believe, however, that a lot more still needs to be done. Almost no one from the old Internet team of former contract employees led by Lyudmila Telen has returned to Radio Liberty.
On the first anniversary of the mass firing, Lyudmila Telen wrote about it on her Facebook page. She is now the Editor in Chief of a popular investigative journalism magazine Sovershenno Sekretno.
Telen referred to “scandalous” events under the previous RFE/RL and Russian Service management.
She wrote on her Facebook page, “I am reviewing this for history. We have been taught at the Liberty Radio, only facts do count and not our comments.”
Under Telen, the Internet content of the Radio Liberty site broke the records of popularity and attracted a number of visitors higher than Svoboda’s Internet attracts even now.
The Russian Service Facebook page shows that its most popular week was July 22, 2012, two months before Lyudmila Telen’s old Internet team and others were fired.
Some progress in increasing audience engagement through social media has been made, but the Russian Service is still trying to undo the previous damage and to find a sense of direction in its online presence.
The damage was done under the previous RFE/RL management, before Kevin Klose came to RFE/RL.
A few weeks after he took over, Klose met with a group of fired journalists and began the process of rehiring some of the employees. The old Internet team, however, consisted almost entirely of contractors with less seniority and fewer rights.
The Russian Service of Radio Liberty is doing much better than it did before Kevin Klose. Its journalism has greatly improved.
One of its most recent scoops has been an interview with Senator John McCain (R-AR), “Interview: McCain On Russia, Putin, And His Pravda.ru Op-Ed,” “Джон Маккейн: Путин распространяет ложь.” The Russian Service online story on the interview with McCain shows over 1,000 Facebook “Likes.”
Earlier this month, the new BBG Chairman Jeff Shell visited the RFE/RL headquarters in Prague and voiced his support for Kevin Klose and RFE/RL’s mission. Due to courage and efforts of many people, a lot has been achieved.
But a lot still has to be done. Discriminatory personnel practices affecting foreign journalists working in Prague and RFE/RL contractors in Russia and elsewhere need to be changed as soon as possible.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors should commit more money to reversing some of the still remaining damage done to RFE/RL. It would be a matter of justice and good corporate policy.