BBG Watch Commentary
BBG Watch has learned that newly-appointed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty acting president Kevin Klose is planning to meet in Moscow on February 19 with prominent Russian human rights leaders and representatives of Radio Liberty journalists who were fired by his predecessor Steven Korn.
According to our sources, the meeting with human rights activists will be at the Memorial human rights group office in Moscow and will be followed by a meeting with a delegation of fired Radio Liberty journalists and some of their colleagues who had resigned in protest over the dismissals last September. According to our sources, some of the most prominent Russian opposition leaders may attend the meeting with Klose.
Kevin Klose was appointed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency in charge of U.S. international broadcasting, to resolve the crisis created by the firing of dozens of experienced Radio Liberty journalists and multimedia professionals by the previous RFE/RL management team headed by Steven Korn and his top deputies, RFE/RL vice-presidents Julia Ragona and Dale Cohen. They had replaced well known and respected journalists with Masha Gessen as the new Russian Service director and her team of mostly unknown feature magazine writers.
The firings and programming changes instituted by Masha Gessen led to vigorous protests from Russian democratic political leaders and human rights activists, including Nobel Peace Prize winner, former President Mikhail Gorbachev, former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov–all of them critics and opponents of President Vladimir Putin. The chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group and this year’s Nobel Peace Prize nominee Lyudmila Alekseyeva has called on Gessen and Ragona to resign and asked Kevin Klose to allow fired journalists to return to work at Radio Liberty and to restore the station’s traditional focus on political news reporting and coverage of human rights issues.
A large number of dismissed journalists, their colleagues who resigned in protest, as well as some of the currently-employed Radio Liberty staffers have also sent a letter to Kevin Klose, in which they point out that the Korn-Ragona-Gessen team had made false accusations that members of the previous Russian Service team lacked skills to do digital media. The fired team has received awards for their online reporting, pioneered live video streaming in Russia and had developed a multimedia news website which was one of the most cited by other Russian media outlets. The fired journalists, their colleagues who resigned in protest, and their supporters have formed Radio Liberty in Exile with a Facebook page and their own multimedia news website, Novaya Svoboda – SvobodaNew.com.
Most of the Russian opposition movement and a large part of the former Radio Liberty audience are boycotting the station’s website after it was redesigned by Masha Gessen and acquired a tabloid magazine look and content.
After the mass firings last September, Steven Korn, Julia Ragona, and Masha Gessen had a meeting in Moscow with a group of human rights and political activists, including Lyudmila Alexeeva, but they dismissed the concerns expressed by Russian democratic leaders and further alienated the anti-Putin opposition. Alexeeva and others had accused Steven Korn of firing the journalists in a particularly offensive manner, using security guards and preventing staffers from saying good bye to their audience of many years. Korn, Ragona and Cohen have denied these charges and insist that they had treated the journalists with utmost respect.
After Russian democratic leaders wrote letters to the White House and the U.S. Congress demanding that the fired journalists be returned to work and their human rights programs restored, the Broadcasting Board of Governors reportedly forced Steven Korn to resign (He denies it.) and appointed Kevin Klose to deal with the crisis. Klose had served previously as The Washington Post correspondent in Moscow, was RFE/RL’s president during the move of the station from Munich to Prague in 1995, and was for many years a top executive at the National Public Radio (NPR). Sources told BBG Watch that there is a great deal of anxiety among BBG members as well as hope that Kevin Klose will quickly resolve the crisis at RFE/RL and restore the broadcaster’s reputation for excellent and objective journalism.