BBG Watch Commentary

Czech Helsinki Committee Letter to Jeff ShellIn a letter addressed to new Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Jeff Shell, Czech Helsinki Committee Chairwoman Tana Fischerova asked him to put a stop to discrimination of foreign-born journalists employed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) at its headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic.

Tana Fischerova was a candidate in 2013 Czech presidential elections and is a former member of the Czech Parliament. She is also a member of the board of the Vaclav and Dagmar Havel Foundation VIZE 97 and a member of the Amnesty International.

Fischerova asked Shell to intervene in settling lawsuits against RFE/RL “caused by unfair labor policies toward its foreign employees.”

The policies should be changed in order to prevent discrimination and unequal treatment in the future, Fischerova wrote in her letter to Shell.

Critics charge that discriminatory labor practices date as far back as 1995 when RFE/RL had moved from Munich to Prague. They also point out that these practices have gotten even worse in recent years with the support of the BBG’s Office of General Counsel and other top managers of the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), the agency’s chief management unit. Shell has initiated some management reforms within IBB. But critics, including American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE Local 1812, argue that IBB executives who are still in charge have been trying to use similar adverse and discriminatory labor practices against federal employees of the Voice of America (VOA) and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB).

Shell has been BBG chairman since August 2013. RFE/RL also has new president and CEO, Kevin Klose, who has put a stop to some of the management abuses of the previous RFE/RL management team and initiated various management reforms.

Former RFE/RL managers and IBB executives have ignored previous letters sent by the Czech Helsinki Committee to the BBG.

Former Czech Helsinki Chairwoman Anna Sabatova, a winner of the United Nations Human Rights Prize, had called RFE/RL labor practices “immoral.”

Under the current system, foreign-born journalists working for RFE/RL in the Czech Republic are not granted key protections of the Czech labor law. They are employed as contract workers who can be terminated at any time without any reason under an old communist law designed to protect Soviet enterprises which operated in Czechoslovakia.

During the Cold War, Helsinki Committees in various countries of the Soviet block, including Czechoslovakia, saw reporting by RFE/RL as essential for their activities on behalf of human rights. Media articles in various countries in the region have been highly critical of the current treatment of journalists by RFE/RL management and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

The latest sharp criticism of RFE/RL and BBG by the Czech Helsinki Committee is seen as a public diplomacy embarrassment for the United States. But management practices that have given rise to this criticism are even more embarrassing for the U.S. federal agency which has as its mission to support freedom and democracy.

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