BBG – USAGM Watch Commentary
We can report with some satisfaction that Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is once again making progress in reforming its management and programming since Jamie Fly was appointed RFE/RL President and Chief Executive Officer by the RFE/RL Board of Directors in July 2019. Unfortunately, the same cannot be yet said about the Voice of America (VOA), another media entity overseen by the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM).
Prior to his appointment, which was effective August 1, 2019, Fly served as a senior fellow, co-director of the Alliance for Security Democracy, and director of the Future of Geopolitics and Asia programs at The German Marshall Fund of the United States. He served as counselor for Foreign and National Security Affairs to Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) from 2013-17. He was Senator Rubio’s foreign policy advisor during his presidential campaign. Prior to joining Senator Rubio’s staff in February 2013, Jamie Fly served as the executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) from its founding in early 2009. Prior to joining FPI, Fly served in the Bush administration at the National Security Council (2008-09) and in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (2005-08). His articles and reviews have been published in a wide variety of outlets in the United States and Europe. For his work in the Department of Defense, he was awarded the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service. Fly received a B.A. in international studies and political science from American University and an M.A. in German and European studies from Georgetown University.
Most of the events described in the archived BBG Watch commentary took place between 2012 and 2013. Due to the intervention of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, much of the damage from the 2012 firing of Radio Liberty’s Russian journalists was reversed by Kevin Klose. He was a former Washington Post Moscow bureau chief, editor and reporter who had returned to RFE/RL in January 2013 as president and CEO for the second time. Unfortunately, more managerial and programming problems reemerged after Klose’s departure from RFE/RL in March 2014.
Since the appointment of Jamie Fly last year, BBG – USAGM Watch has observed considerable improvement in RFE/RL programming and employee morale.
This archival article shows how opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov (9 October 1959 – 27 February 2015) who was assassinated in Moscow five years ago came to the defense of Radio Liberty journalists in Russia during the 2012-2013 management crisis at the U.S. taxpayer-funded media outlet managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), now known under its new name as the U.S. Agency for Global Media.
The text below was originally published by BBG Watch on February 18, 2013
BBG Watch Commentary
Recently assassinated former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov was one of many prominent Russian democratic leaders and human rights activists who defended dozens of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalists in Russia who were unjustly fired in September 2012 by RFE/RL’s former American management.
While the 2012-2013 management crisis at Radio Liberty was eventually largely resolved, there were new reports in 2015 of management problems on a smaller scale in the Russian Service. According to BBG Watch sources among human rights activists in Russia, some of the famous ones sent a letter in late January 2015 to Chairman Jeff Shell and members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in Washington expressing their concern over a recent firing of a human rights Radio Liberty Russian Service reporter, employee morale problems and President Putin’s tightening grip over the Russian media.
One of the signatories of the most recent letter was Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a Russian historian, leading human rights activist, founding member of the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group, and one of the few veterans of the Soviet dissident movement still active in modern Russia. In 2012-2013 she was leading the fight to help the fired Radio Liberty journalists.
Russian and American Human Rights Defenders Supported Radio Liberty Staff
In 2012 and early 2013, some managers at RFE/RL in Prague tried to discourage individuals and groups from supporting the fired journalists, but their defenders in Russia and in the United States persevered. Thanks to people like Boris Nemtsov, Lyudmila Alexeyeva and former Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member Ambassador Victor Ashe, most of the fired Radio Liberty journalists were rehired after the RFE/RL management team in Prague was replaced by the BBG. Ambassador Ashe received the Glasnost Award from a Russian human rights group for his defense of Radio Liberty broadcasters.
BBG Governor Ashe reads Glasnost Award in Moscow, June 2013. Standing next to him: Kristina Gorelik and Jefim Fistein.
Boris Nemtsov Supported Fired Radio Liberty Journalists
In February 2013, Boris Nemtsov signed a letter in support of Radio Liberty and its fired broadcasters, some of the best and highly respected independent media professionals in Russia. Many of them, including Radio Liberty human rights reporter Kristina Gorelik, and political reporter Mikhail Sokolov, were later rehired by the new RFE/RL management installed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors and headed by new CEO Kevin Klose. He has since retired from RFE/RL.
BBG Watch is reposting its February 2013 report as a tribute to Boris Nemtsov and his support of democracy, free media, and Radio Liberty.
“In the last few years Putin’s authoritarian regime intensified its offensive on Russian media.”
“In this precise moment the civil society has been deprived of an important and reliable source of information, which Radio Liberty has been for decades, as well as of its analyses and responsible commentaries. Broadcasting on AM has been interrupted. A significant number of its staff, many of whom enjoyed deserved authority and respect both in the professional media environment and among a large audience, has been dismissed.”
— Russian Opposition Coordination Council
In a letter to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) newly-appointed acting president Kevin Klose, several leaders of the anti-Putin opposition, including former reformist Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and Andrey Illarionov, a former economic policy advisor to President Putin who resigned in protest over Putin’s authoritarian rule, wrote that the civil society in Russia “has been deprived of an important and reliable source of information, which Radio Liberty has been for decades.”
Andrey Illarionov currently works as a senior fellow in the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC. He is identified on the Cato Institute website as one of Russia’s most forceful and articulate advocates of an open society and democratic capitalism.
The letter to RFE/RL acting president Kevin Klose was also signed by anti-Putin political activist Garry Kasparov, considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time.
Another signatory, Andrey Piontkovsky, is a Russian scientist and political writer and analyst. He has been an outspoken critic of Putin’s “managed” democracy and has described Russia as a “soft totalitarian regime.”
Vladislav Naganov is a leader of the executive committee of the People’s Alliance Party.
Anton Dolgikh is a lawyer and human rights activist from Kirov.
Georgii Alburov is a member of the organizational committee of the People’s Alliance Party.
Andrei Pivovarov is a businessman from St Petersburg and member of the “Civil Responsibility” movement.
Many other Russian democratic political leaders and human rights activists, including this year’s Nobel Peace Prize nominee Lyudmila Alexeeva, have signed other letters and petitions demanding the return of the fired Radio Liberty journalists and restoration of their programs.
Kevin Klose was scheduled to meet in Moscow on February 19 with Russian opposition leaders and with representatives of the fired Radio Liberty journalists. They were falsely accused by the former RFE/RL management of being unfamiliar with new digital media. To show that these accusations were false, they had created a multimedia platform Radio Liberty in Exile and offered live video streaming and live reporting as an alternative to the official Radio Liberty website and social media pages which rapidly lost much of their previous audience.
[The meeting between Kevin Klose and Radio Liberty in Exile took place and paved the way for the rehiring of most of staff reporters who had been fired.]
Klose was selected by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to resolve the crisis caused by the mass firing of Radio Liberty staff last September under his predecessor Steven Korn.
Kirill Filimonov protesting against the firing of Radio Liberty journalists was detained by the Russian police near the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
Radio Liberty Human Rights Reporter Kristina Gorelik, RFE/RL Photo
(Photo – from left to right) Radio Liberty human rights reporter Kristina Gorelik, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Board of Directors Chairwoman (now former) Susan McCue, Radio Liberty Senior Adviser Jefim Fistein (2013), human rights defender Lyudmila Alexeeva, BBG member and RFE/RL Board member Michael Meehan (now former), RFE/RL Acting President and CEO (now former) Kevin Klose. May 2013.
Kevin Klose with some of the fired Radio Liberty journalists, Moscow, May 2013.
To Mr Kevin Klose
President of RFE/RL
Dear Mr. Klose
In the last few years Putin’s authoritarian regime intensified its offensive on Russian media. Total censorship was introduced in federal and almost all regional TV stations. On a daily basis the government exercises direct “political leadership” of the electronic and print media under the authorities’ control as well as of the commercial companies affiliated with them. Under different pretexts, the authorities try to influence the editorial policies of non-state owned media. Dozens of journalists and media managers have been fired and banned from their profession. Many opposition media have been closed or are about to be closed.
In this precise moment the civil society has been deprived of an important and reliable source of information, which Radio Liberty has been for decades, as well as of its analyses and responsible commentaries. Broadcasting on AM has been interrupted. A significant number of its staff, many of whom enjoyed deserved authority and respect both in the professional media environment and among a large audience, has been dismissed.
We are fully aware that the responsibility lies with the Russian authorities, who are consistently tightening up the legislation, both in order to erect new obstacles for the work of Radio Liberty and other radio stations which are not under the control of the Russian ruling group, and later to create a pretext for the final termination of their activity.
However we have serious reasons to believe that the management of Radio Liberty did not exploit all the opportunities to continue its full fledged broadcasting and that it has not exhausted all the legal means to preserve the radios’ ability to reach a significant Russian audience.
The Coordination Council of the opposition calls on the management of Radio Liberty to make every possible possible effort in order to resume a full fledged broadcasting of the radios’ programs.
We declare our readiness to facilitate in any possible way the return of Radio Liberty on the Russian airwaves, and we are also ready to provide the radio and its staff any assistance that might be required and that will be in our power to provide.
A. Illarionov,B.Nemtsov, A.Dolgikh, A.Piontkovsky, G.Kasparov, V.Naganov, A.Pivovarov, G.Alburov
The text was being circulated among the members of the a Coordination Council for additional signatures.