In February 2012, the U.S. taxpayer funded Voice of America (VOA) Russian Service broadcast what turned out to be a fake interview with Russian dissident journalists and political activist Alexei Navalny. He did not give an interview with VOA. Someone in Russia duped Voice of America Russian Service reporters and editors to post a fake interview. At the same time, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which is also managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), was in a crisis situation.
BBG Watch Commentary
Radio Liberty in Exile covers Navalny trial with videos, photos, interviews and news reports
Russian journalists summarily fired last September by the former American management of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) are proving once again that they not only enjoy name recognition and respect of their audience, but that they can cover important news events on all media platforms far better than most Russian reporting outlets, including the official Radio Liberty whose reputation and news coverage have been ruined.
Former Radio Liberty journalists have launched a major effort to cover the trial of Russian opposition leader and blogger Alexei Navalny who became famous for exposing official corruption and criticizing the authoritarian rule of President Putin. The official Radio Liberty in Russia is now run by Masha Gessen and her new team, which–critics say–lacks enough experience in covering political events on multimedia platforms.
Some of Radio Liberty in Exile multimedia reporters have been posting online an impressive number of videos, photos, interviews and news reports from the trial of Russian opposition leader and famous blogger Alexei Navalny, which began Wednesday in the city of Kirov.
Timofeev also uploaded a video of Alexei Navalny speaking to his supporters in Kirov before the start of his trial.
More Alexei Navalny photos by Yuri Timofeev can be seen on Radio Liberty in Exile Instagram page.
Despite no funding, their multimedia coverage of news events in Russia and abroad has been outstanding by any standards. It included streaming of online video during coverage of recent local elections in Russia. Some of these journalists are well known political reporters like Mikhail Sokolov, Lyudmila Telen, Kristina Gorelik, Elena Rykovtseva; cultural expert Marina Timasheva; media analyst and professor of journalism Anna Kachkaeva; poet Elena Fanailova; Elena Vlasenko; Anastasia Kirilenko; Yuri Timofeev and many others.
The difference between them and most members of the Masha Gessen’s team is that Radio Liberty in Exile journalists are well-known and highly respected media personalities among pro-democracy Russians, which gives them both credibility and exposure through other independent media outlets, where they publish or appear as guests. Many of them received prestigious awards for human rights reporting and online journalism.
Gessen has been accused in media reports of losing online audience, alienating major leaders of the pro-democracy movement in Russia who strongly support the fired Radio Liberty team, and downplaying news coverage on the station’s Russian website in favor of more feature-oriented journalism. She had also lost 20% of readers for the Vokrug Sveta geographic magazine, which she edited briefly prior to joining Radio Liberty, Russian media reported. According to other reports, the loss of online audience at Radio Liberty has been even greater.
Some changes in favor of more news coverage have been made after Gessen’s supporter and the man who hired her, former RFE/RL president Steven Korn, resigned and new acting president of RFE/RL Kevin Klose came on board in January. With some of the few remaining experienced Radio Liberty journalists emboldened by Klose’s arrival, political news coverage has improved, but it is still far from sufficient and the station’s reputation has not recovered. Radio Liberty in Russia is still without its best reporters and has no chance of regaining its former standing without them.
Members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency in charge of RFE/RL and other U.S. taxpayer-supported media freedom broadcasters, have been urging Klose to quickly resolve the crisis. According to sources, they are anxious to put the whole ugly episode behind them. Sources also tell us that BBG members realize that without the return of the fired team, the problem cannot be resolved and are willing to provide Klose with support and resources to achieve that goal.
The last thing BBG members want is to have a discredited official Radio Liberty website viewed as an enemy by pro-democracy Russians and a competing New Liberty website supported by the Russian opposition, one media expert observed. On top of that, they were recently exposed to Gessen’s judgement and leadership skills when she insulted one of them at an event in Washington in which she was being honored for her writing prior to joining Radio Liberty, the expert said. BBG members know that these accomplished journalists will never work for her and she will never be trusted or supported by most leading Russian human rights and opposition figures, the expert added.
Klose is reportedly working on returning fired journalists to their old jobs, but at least for now, many of them are without paid reporting work in Putin’s Russia, as the authoritarian government increases its suppression of free media. They are working as volunteers without any outside funding for Radio Liberty in Exile. Their group includes not only dozens of journalists who were fired but also their colleagues who resigned in protest, as well as many supporters. Thanks to them, Russians can get coverage of the Navalny trial from independent journalists whom they know, trust and respect. But they have suffered a great injustice, many of them are without paying jobs and face a bleak future if no one comes to their rescue.
Their firing was a tragedy, a great loss for U.S. international broadcasting and a public diplomacy disaster. This enormous mistake needs to be corrected as soon as possible. They are wonderful people and great professionals. They simply don’t deserve this kind of treatment from America.
Mr. Klose, please do something quickly to bring them back to Radio Liberty so they can continue their coverage of the Navalny trial as multimedia professionals working for American taxpayers. America will benefit from their experience, dedication and incredible bravery in defending human rights and democracy through accurate and objective journalism.