At the ongoing meeting in Washington, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has not moved to return to their jobs the fired Radio Liberty journalists and to resume their political and human rights programs.
BBG members did not mention numerous appeals sent to them from Russia, including protest letters and statements from human rights leaders led by Lyudmila Alexeeva, as well as from Russian opposition politicians, including former President Mikhail Gorbachev, former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, former Vice-Speaker of State Duma Vladimir Ryzhkov, and leaders of the Russian United Democratic Party “Yabloko,” Sergei Mitrokhin and Grigory Yavlinsky.
“Russian United Democratic Party ‘Yabloko’ is deeply concerned over the situation which surrounds RFE/RL Russian Service. RFE/RL Moscow bureau leading journalists mass firings threatened the very existence of Radio Svoboda as objective media of high quality. The official reason – switching to new multimedia technologies and quitting medium wave broadcasting – doesn’t withstand criticism,” Sergei Mitrokhin and Grigory Yavlinsky told the BBG in their letter.
“The purge in Moscow bureau has badly damaged the reputation of RFE/RL as a free international media working in traditions of democratic standards.We recommend the Broadcasting Board of Governors in Washington to revise the RFE/RL management decision and restore medium-wave broadcasting and the Radio Liberty Moscow team, ” Kasyanov, Nemtsov, and Ryzhkov informed the BBG.
Mitrokhin and Yavlinsky said, “To the best of our judgment, a bureaucratic mistake took place, which is turning into the other – political – mistake. Bureaucrats supervising mass media were making their narrow decisions, without considering the political consequences, which are indeed political. The Russian audience has lost the information source which it trusted throughout many decades. It is obvious that mass media reputation is the reputation of its journalists.” They added, “Russian politicians and human rights activists have lost the channel of delivering their opinion to citizens in the conditions of censorship. In our perspective, there is still a chance of correcting this situation, preventing the bureaucratic mistake from becoming political.”
There was no public indication at the BBG meeting that these appeals were seriously considered for any immediate action by the board to deal with the crisis. The arguments from Russian human rights activists and opposition politicians were not specifically mentioned.
The BBG allowed RFE/RL President Steven Korn to make a presentation in which he defended the mass firing as necessary for transforming Radio Liberty into a more digital and video based operation. He did not explain why members of the Internet team in Moscow and video journalists were fired and was not challenged on this by BBG members. He highly praised Masha Gessen, his new choice for the director of the Russian Service. He said that she has dual Russian and American citizenship and will be based in Moscow. He also announced that some of the Russian Service journalists and broadcasters in Prague will also lose their jobs.
BBG member Victor Ashe expressed concern about the fired Radio Liberty Moscow employees and the direction of the proposed changes at Radio Liberty, but he did not offer any specific proposals of dealing with the situation. He predicted that President Putin will continue efforts to drive Radio Liberty out of Russia. The board did not devote much time to discussing Radio Liberty issues despite a public relations and public diplomacy crisis in Russia over the firings of journalists and the termination of their programs.