BBG Watch Commentary
In emails to members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), who are meeting today and tomorrow in Prague, Czech Republic, former Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Russian editor has urged them to stop RFE/RL from using communist-era Czechoslovak law to deny current American and Czech employment protections to foreign journalists and other foreign employees.
Lev Roitman is the husband of Snjezana Pelivan, also a former RFE/RL employee who is suing the U.S. taxpayer-supported international broadcaster in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for discrimination on the basis of national origin. Pelivan is a Croatian citizen. Another woman, Armenian journalist Anna Karapetian, is suing RFE/RL in Czech courts. They were both dismissed by RFE/RL without a cause under the communist-era Czechoslovak law which allows foreign companies operating in the Czech Republic to exempt their foreign employees from some of the current provisions of the Czech labor law.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a U.S. federal government agency, does not extend some of the key protections of the Czech labor law to foreigners employed in Prague. The Czech labor law covers RFE/RL’s Czech employees and its American employees have a recourse to U.S. courts to protect their rights as employees. The Czech Helsinki Committee condemned the treatment of foreign employees by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as “immoral.” Foreign employees at RFE/RL in Prague include political exiles from countless ruled by authoritarian regimes and represent a particularly vulnerable group.
Lev Roitman, who is contacting BBG members during their stay in Prague, emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1973. A Prague resident, he is now a U.S. citizen. In one of the emails, he wrote to members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors:
After spending over thirty years with RFE/RL prior to my retirement in 2005, I am profoundly ashamed for the present moral and political public dishonor of MY organization. Unfortunately, shame is not infectious disease: evidently, it did not affect the RFE/RL management and BBG bureaucrats. They seek justification of manifested immorality in legal tricks and gimmicks performed in foreign courtrooms — as long as it all remains hidden from American public paying for Wall Street lawyers.
Other broadcasting grantees of the BBG, like Radio Free Asia based in Washington, DC, have excellent management-labor relations, but labor relations at the Broadcasting Board of Governors and its International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) in Washington are almost as bad under the management team that has tolerated the labor practices at RFE/RL. Most managers and employees at RFE/RL, RFA, and at another Washington-based grantee broadcaster Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN — Radio Sawa and Alhurra TV) fear that the current push by BBG/IBB executives to merge all of these broadcasters into one administrative structure will lead to destroying their effectiveness and employee morale, which is already dismal at RFE/RL, sources told BBG Watch.
An international broadcasting expert told BBG Watch that in addition to a negative impact on the quality of journalism, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty employees, stringers and contractors are already being targeted by hostile foreign intelligence services. “To deny them fair treatment is not only immoral, as the Czech Helsinki Committee pointed out, it is also simply foolish in the extreme,” this expert said. Allowing BBG/IBB executives to visit the same kind of treatment on Radio Free Asia and Middle East Broadcasting Networks journalists and other employees would be a disaster, the expert warned.
Dear Governor Ashe,
Thank you very much indeed for your immediate reaction. In the attachment above, please find my published letter of last January, “At Broadcasting Board of Governors and Radio Free Europe/Liberty – Public Diplomacy is Public Scandal at Public Expense”, accompanied by the list of its individual addressees (incl. BBG members) plus the abbreviated (!) list of indignant international publications condemning RFE/RL for its shameless hypocrisy. Also attached, is internationally broadly covered letter by prominent Czech senator Jaromir Stetina to Hillary Clinton, “From Fame to Shame: Stop Human Rights Violations and National Discrimination of Foreign Employees at the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty”.
I am an American citizen by choice – after emigrating from the Soviet Union in 1973. After spending over thirty years with RFE/RL prior to my retirement in 2005, I am profoundly ashamed for the present moral and political public dishonor of MY organization. Unfortunately, shame is not infectious disease: evidently, it did not affect the RFE/RL management and BBG bureaucrats. They seek justification of manifested immorality in legal tricks and gimmicks performed in foreign courtrooms — as long as it all remains hidden from American public paying for Wall-Street lawyers. But it will not last forever. Statement by the authoritative Czech Helsinki Committee is just an additional call for action – yours (BBG), in the first place. Scandalous for RFE/RL and the United States lawsuits should be stopped immediately by peaceful resolutions.
I wish you a good stay in Prague and hope that BBG’s visit to RFE/RL will not remain just a ceremonial occasion. Sorry for not being politically correct but, to the best of my knowledge, you are the only sound minded member of BBG. I wish to be wrong.
Subject: Czech Helsinki Committee decries immoral treatment of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty employees
Please read it and, if you find it useful, share with your BBG colleagues, for the BBG-controlled RFE/RL could not fall lower. However, I am afraid they could not care less. Sorry that it farther tarnishes public image of the United States.
Fm. RFE/RL senior commentator
171 00 Prague 7, Czech Republic
Tel.:+420 28385 2280
+420 603 317 078
Addressees– List enclosed:
House of Representatives
Information Copies – List enclosed:
U.S. Ambassador, Prague,
Media U.S., Czech, Foreign
At Broadcasting Board of Governors and Radio Free Europe/Liberty –
Public Diplomacy is Public Scandal at Public Expense
Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is the largest and highly visible institution of American public diplomacy abroad. In its noble official mission the Radio proclaims:
“To empower people in their struggle against violations of human rights,” “to promote democratic values and institutions,” “strengthen civil societies by projecting democratic values,” “provide a model for local media.”
RFE/RL’s yearly budget provided by Congress via the supervising Federal agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), exceeds 90 million dollars. As a tool of American public diplomacy, RFE/RL has a simple overarching goal: to enhance positive image of our country internationally. It is the same goal which Chinese public diplomacy, expensive and successful, has for China, or the Russian one, expanding and hapless, has for Russia.
RFE/RL broadcasts in 28 languages to 21 countries. The impact of RFE/RL’s public diplomacy on international public opinion is reflected by multilingual foreign media for which RFE/RL should “provide a model”. In this case, it turns monolingual:
“hypocrisy”, “betrayal of ideals”, “violation of human rights”, “lawlessness”, “double standards”, “moral disaster”, “fraud”, “cynicism”, “Guantanamo in Prague”, “public idiocy instead of public diplomacy”, and so on.
Short list of the ongoing international publications is enclosed. In reality, that list, due to the exponential effect of Internet, is endless. By the time you read this letter, it will be even longer.
Over thirty years, prior to my retirement in 2005 as the Radio’s senior commentator, I worked for RFE/RL in New York, Munich, and Prague. During the cold war, RFE/RL was instrumental in combating communist lies and disdain for human rights. What is wrong with RFE/RL at present? Why U.S. public dollars are wasted so detrimentally to American image overseas?
The answer is bewildering, even hard to believe. In Czech courts, the American Radio fights for the right to apply communist law of 1963 written to allow Soviet enterprises to use Soviet laws in subjugated Czechoslovakia. One of the overlooked relics of communist past, that law still remains on books in the post-communist Czech Republic. However, out of moral and political considerations, not a single American company, not a single foreign enterprise has ever made use of that law. In that, RFE/RL is unique.
The cynical irony of that unflattering uniqueness was not lost on international media. Nationally circulated Czech daily editorialized:
”Prague headquarters of RFE/RL, which pretends to be a messenger of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, behaves as an employer in such a way as if the principles it heralds are relevant “just” for the whole planet but not for what is going on inside that estimable organization itself.”
On December 6, 2011 multilingual Armenian newspaper AZG (People), Yerevan, wrote:
“For RFE/RL with its proudly proclaimed mission, the battlefield for public trust and positive American image abroad should be not in foreign courts but in foreign public opinion. In fact, RFE/RL has lost the court battles from the outset, just by entering the courtroom — on moral and political grounds.”
This year, January 2, The Croatian Times, Zagreb, reported:
“Croatian citizen Snjezana Pelivan officially requests the government of Croatia to support her legal claim against the Czech Republic in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. BBG, which controls and directs all American non-military broadcasters abroad, “makes all major policy determinations governing the operations of RFE/RL” and “provides worldwide personnel management policies, programs, and services.” All foreign journalists, producers, and other specialists employed by RFE/RL in Prague, are provided with uniform work contracts based on American labour laws inapplicable to foreigners outside the United States. Presently, the case of Armenian journalist, mother of three minor children Anna Karapetian, similar to Pelivan’s lawsuit, is again in the Czech Supreme court. It is the sixth time that her claim against RFE/RL will be handled by Czech judges. The case of Snjezana Pelivan has been heard four times. The Czech government… does not dare to interfere with the powerful Broadcasting Board of Governors in Washington and to request an end to violation of Czech legislative sovereignty.”
Accompanied by indignant media coverage, internationalization of the scandal widens on daily basis. On January 12, authoritative Prague newspaper Lidove noviny in an article titled
“A spectre (ghost) is haunting ‘Free Europe’ ” quoted Snjezana Pelivan:
“Americans spit on this country openly and smile nicely. And Prague wipes itself dry and keeps smiling, too.”
Next day, January 13, that article was translated and republished by popular Russian web-portal, InoSMI. Reaction of Russian readers attests the achievements of public diplomacy performed by RFE/RL – its messenger, tool, and embodiment:
“Such is the real situation of journalists in ‘democratic’ countries,” “Americans spit not only on Czechs,” ”Those human rights promoters! Their shity democracy in action, so to speak,” “Indeed, USA turned the democracy and employment rights into some kind of a bedlam,” “Nowhere and never the master was on equal footing with the slave”…
That reaction convincingly explains why in present day Russia RFE/RL occupies virtually untraceable 106th position among online broadcasters. Its share of the audience in Moscow is miserable 0 .07%, 52nd place. In Sankt-Petersburg, in some of the most important age categories it is marked by * — as statistically negligent. In Siberian Krasnoyarsk, in the polling “My beloved Radio”, RFE/RL (” Radio Svoboda” in Russian usage) does not appear at all. It is not to be found also in 2011 rating table for Kiev, Ukraine. American RFE/RL had lost its moral standing and the audience, too.
One reads in recently published BBG’s yearly “Performance and Accountability Report”:
“We are proud to report the achievements of the BBG during FY 2011 in furthering our mission as well as wisely and effectively using the resources entrusted to us by the Administration, Congress, and the public.”
To be sure, in BBG report the Pelivan’s and Karapetian’s court cases and international reaction to them are not mentioned. Who is being taken for a ride – the Administration, Congress, and American public? Personally the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton serving on BBG and RFE/RL’s Board of Directors ex officio?
The latest yearly survey of 37 federal agencies released last October by Office of Personnel Management, again places BBG at the bottom of the list. Senator Tom Coburn called BBG “the most worthless organization in the federal government.” Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, held last April the hearings titled “Is America’s Overseas Broadcasting Undermining Our National Interest and the Fight against Tyrannical Regimes?” That question was rhetoric. The answer is evident.
When BBG spits on your common sense and your intelligence, just as it spits on RFE/RL’s friendly host country, the Czech Republic, the ostrich attitude similar to that taken by the Czech government, would not serve American interests.
Shameful for America lawsuits in foreign courts should be stopped immediately by peaceful resolutions. Key to curtailing the ongoing court cases and the resulting international media coverage — anti-American but, unfortunately, fair — is in Washington. In White House, State Department, the Congress.
That means: in your hands.
It is not up to me to suggest your course of actions.
Enclosures: As stated
Abbreviated List of international publications
(in Czech, Serbo-Croatian, English, Russian, Armenian, etc.)
condemning RFE/RL discriminative policies practiced in the Czech Republic:
“Snjezana Pelivan asks Croatian government to support her legal claim in Strasbourg,”
“’Prague winter’ for USA’s Radio Free Europe/Liberty,”
“A Spectre Haunts ‘Free Europe’ ,”
“American Radio Free Europe violates equal rights of its foreign employees in Prague,”
“U.S.-Funded Radio Free Europe Invokes Communist Law to Violate the Will of Congress,”
“Two Women Fighting to Uphold America’s Principles at America’s Freedom Radio,”
“American RFE/RL Fights in Courts against Armenian Journalist. And Scores Against America,”
“From RFE/RL: Immorality as a Matter of Policy,”
“Czech Court Rules Against RFE/RL in Suit by Dismissed Armenian Employee,”
“In handcuffs of ‘Liberty’,”
“Czech Court to American Radio Free Europe: No Use for U.S. Laws in the Czech Republic. Hillary Clinton Will Not Be Asked to Testify,”
“Czech Court Rules RFE/RL Cannot Discriminate Against Its Own Foreign Journalists,”
“Radio Liberty Betrays Its Ideals,”
“Czech Supreme Court Rules Against Radio Free Europe. Karapetian’s Case Returned for New Consideration”,
“It’s the Morality, Stupid,”
“Radio Free Europe – Task for Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg,”
“Radio Free Europe – Guantanamo in Prague,”
“Armenian journalist appeals to Obama to Protect Rights of Foreign Journalists at U.S. Government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty,”
“Equality With Precondition. Practice of Free Europe Contradicts Its Ideals,”
“U.S. Attorney General is Asked to Investigate Fraud at RFE/RL,”
“Doomsday of Radio Liberty. From Double Standards to Double Morals?”
“A Sense of Betrayal,”
“Czech Politician Accuses U.S. of Discrimination Against Foreign Journalists,”
“On Air in Legal Vacuum,”
“Czech MP Writes to U.S. Counterparts Over Work Conditions in RFE/RL,”
”New Administration Must Undo RFE/RL Anti-Diplomacy Abroad,”
“BBG, RFE/RL: Bring Public Diplomats Instead of Public Bureaucrats,”
“Don’t Feed Kremlin’s Public Diplomacy With U.S. Public Hypocrisy,”
“Public Disaster Instead of Public Diplomacy,”
“Cases of Karapetian and Pelivan as Morality Check for Obama Administration. Radio Free Europe to Face European Court of Human Rights,”
“Czech MP Questions Pelivan Case,”
“Czech Sovereignty Ends at RFE/RL,”
“At Radio Free Europe/Liberty, Bulk of Discriminated Employees is Muslims. Hillary Clinton Serves on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Board of Directors,”
“Free Europe With Its Own Laws in Colonial Czech Republic?”
“From Human Rights Show to Human Rights Court,”
“Prague Spring Leads to Strasbourg,”
”News Flashes From Radio Free/Radio Liberty. The Face of America Abroad,”
“Czech senator angry about Croat’s lawsuit”…
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