BBG Watch Commentary
A former Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) staffer and investigative reporter Anastasia Kirilenko who now lives in Paris saw an interview with her about Friday’s terror attacks in the French capital banned by the Radio Liberty’s Russian Service management — a second time such a ban was applied to this independent Russian journalist. Kirilenko had moved to Paris in 2014 for family reasons. She became a free lance correspondent for RFE/RL before being dismissed and declared persona non grata by Radio Liberty’s Russian Service management (Radio Svoboda) over an editorial dispute about allegations of official corruption in Russia. A phone interview with Kirilenko about the Paris attacks was recorded but not used by Radio Liberty because the Russian Service management objected to putting anything online or on the air involving Kirilenko.
The earlier ban on Kirilenko was over her interview with a former associate and critic of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Another Radio Liberty broadcaster — Moscow-based journalist Kristina Gorelik who specialized in human rights reporting — was also fired by the Russian Service management which accused her of inadequate productivity. Gorelik is challenging her dismissal in a Russian court which so far has sided with RFE/RL officials who testified against Gorelik in Moscow.
Critics say that Russian Service and RFE/RL management has failed to provide adequate leadership, motivation, guidance, protection and friendly working conditions for its journalistic staff in Moscow and Prague. While being criticized in a Russian court by RFE/RL managers and lawyers, Gorelik is also a target of vicious anti-Semitic attacks by Russian ultra-nationalists for her former reporting for Radio Liberty.
A Radio Liberty Russian Service reporter who is still employed by RFE/RL and does not want to be identified for fear of retaliation, wrote to BBG Watch: “Considering how already threatened any independent-minded journalists are in Putin’s Russia, especially reporters employed by RFE/RL, a new wholly inappropriate management style has been introduced in Radio Liberty’s Russian Service through questionable terminations, psychological pressure, and daily scandals on trivial grounds.”
Despite strict orders reportedly issued by Radio Svoboda’s management not to use Kirilenko or her reports, an RFE/RL Russian Service reporter made calls to Kirilenko at her home in Paris on Friday and Saturday morning to get her input on the terrorist attacks. Radio Svoboda reporter recorded a SKYPE interview with Kirilenko.
Sources told BBG Watch that the phone interview, however, was not used by Radio Svoboda after the Russian Service management headed by service director Irina Lagunina reportedly reconfirmed in no uncertain terms to the staff at the RFE/RL headquarters in Prague and at the RFE/RL Moscow bureau that “there is a ban on cooperation with Kirilenko in any form.” A top manager reportedly called the Radio Svoboda news desk to forbid any further calls to Kirilenko in Paris under any pretext.
According to sources, after interviewing Kirilenko Saturday morning, Radio Liberty spoke to other Russians in Paris, but — other than Kirilenko — the Russian Service could not immediately find anybody who could make a live report, conduct interviews and send photos and videos from the scenes of the terror attacks. One correspondent living in Paris provided a digest of the French press for Radio Liberty’s Russian Service but apparently could not do on-the-scene reporting and interviews.
Anastasia Kirilenko – Journalist Who Exposed Putin’s Corruption Fired by Radio Liberty
In 2010 Anastasia Kirilenko had conducted a series of interviews with Marina Salye — a lawmaker who accused Vladimir Putin of corruption when they both worked in St. Petersburg. Her bio on the Perugia International Journalism Festival describes Kirilenko’s 2010-2012 Putin investigation as “one of the best achievements of the Radio Liberty Russian Service in recent years.” It also notes that in December 2012 “Kirilenko left Radio Liberty in solidarity with her colleagues, victims of the mass firings ordered by the station’s American management.” She was later rehired only to be fired again earlier this year.
Anastasia Kirilenko’s recent interview with Maksim Freidzon, a businessman and a former associate of Vladimir Putin, containing new corruption allegations related to oil trading business, was rejected by the Russian Service management as “not meeting the Radio’s standards.” Kirilenko’s interview with Freidzon was briefly put online by Radio Svoboda, but it was quickly withdrawn by the Russian Service management which accused Kirilenko of posting an interview with a Putin critic without first getting the interviewee’s full permission.
Kirilenko was reportedly also told by the management that she had not provided a sufficient confirmation of the new corruption allegations made against President Putin by her interviewee. Kirilenko maintains that she had permission to publish the interview and did provide all possible confirmation for the allegations that could be reasonably obtained. The Russian Service management accused Kirilenko of negligence and rescinded her contract. Kirilenko’s interview was later published online in Russia, as well as in some Western media, and is enjoying high popularity online.
More Firings at Radio Liberty’s Russian Service
Another Radio Liberty broadcaster who has worked for the U.S. taxpayer-funed media outlet for the past 17 years was called recently by the Russian Service manager a week before his renewable contract was to expire and reportedly told: “perhaps it isn’t worth it to continue our collaboration,” because Radio Liberty “is moving forward, and you can’t catch up with it.” The stunned broadcaster wrote in a farewell email to his colleagues of 17 years: “It was a pleasure to work with you all these years. Thank you!” Sources tell BBG Watch that Radio Liberty journalists in Russia feel mistreated by their Russian Service management and abandoned by RFE/RL’s American management and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in Washington which oversees U.S.-funded media outreach abroad.