BBG Watch Commentary

Lidove Noviny, the oldest Czech newspaper, published an op-ed article by a former Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty journalist Lev Roitman, ”Na USA apeluje český senátor. Místo prezidenta” (“A Czech Senator Appeals to the U.S. Instead of the Czech President”). Roitman comments on the ongoing employee discrimination lawsuits against RFE/RL, one of which involves his wife, and on appeals by Czech politicians and human rights activists to American officials which have remained unanswered.

Read: Czech Senator, former journalist, appeals to Secretary Kerry to ensure equal rights for all RFE/RL employees, BBG Watch, July 23, 2013.

RFE/RL is not publicly commenting because of ongoing litigation. It is not known what the new RFE/RL management is planning to do to address this issue as well as negative media coverage in the Czech Republic and in other countries to which the station directs its broadcasts.

The new management team, headed by acting RFE/RL president Kevin Klose, has been dealing with other major issues, such as the mass firing of Radio Liberty journalist in Russia. Some of these journalists have been rehired. Klose received praise from many quarters for his handling of the crisis he inherited from the previous management team in Moscow and at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague.

The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – applauded management reforms at RFE/RL and Kevin Klose’s leadership, but CUSIB also called for putting an end to discrimination against the station’s foreign journalists in Prague. The treatment of RFE/RL’s foreign employees in Prague has been controversial for many years and a resolution of this problem still awaits action.


LIDOVÉ NOVINY, (translation from Czech)


A Czech Senator Appeals to the U.S. Instead of the Czech President


Lev Roitman



“In 2000, as a journalist reporting from Putin’s Russia, I was declared persona non grata for exposing human rights violations. To Lukashenka’s Belarus, were as a Czech senator I planed to meet representatives of political opposition, I was refused the entrée visa. On a private trip to Castro’s Cuba, I tried to be of help to the families of persecuted political dissidents. Today, I am asking you to curtail violations of human rights in my own country — by American RFE/RL subordinate to BBG. In 1995, when American RFE/RL – famous for its support of human rights– moved from Munich to Prague, nobody could foresee that this legendary organization will violate human and labor rights of its own employees at the territory of Czech Republic.” – writes Czech Senator Jaromir Stetina to John Kerry. The U.S. Secretary of State is also an ex officio member of the Federal Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which simultaneously serves as the corporate Board of Directors for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).


In his open letter, Senator Stetina highly critically compares official pronouncements of BBG and RFE/RL with their real actions in the Czech Republic: “BBG has a noble public diplomacy mission: “To inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy”. RFE/RL Mission Statement is equally impressive: “to empower people in their struggle against violations of human rights,” “strengthen civil societies by projecting democratic values,” etc. From its Prague headquarters, RFE/RL broadcasts in 28 languages to 21 countries. Hundreds of foreign citizens and stateless persons compose the bulk of its editorial personnel. Unfortunately, their own labor and civil rights are violated on regular basis — as a matter of nationally discriminative regulations contained in RFE/RL’s corporate Policy Manual. 


American attitude to Prague is to ignore and not react.

By RFE/RL Policy Manual, Czech labor laws should not apply to foreigners. Instead, their uniform employment agreements refer to the “applicable” American laws. However, the American labor laws are not applicable to foreigners working for an American employer abroad. “In fact,” notes Czech senator, “RFE/RL foreign employees are knowingly, intentionally — and cynically — placed in a legal vacuum.”


Radio Free Europe does not react to critique


The case of Armenian Anna Karapetian, mother of three minor children, is presently in the Czech Constitutional Court. Croatian citizen Snjezana Pelivan is suing the Czech Republic in the European Court of Human Rights. The lawsuit names the Czech Republic as RFE/RL’s host country that permitted on its territory discrimination on the basis of national origin.


Czech Helsinki Committee (CHC) headed by Anna Sabatova, the United Nations Human Rights Prize winner, defined RFE/RL labor policies as “deceptive,” “an act of fraud.” On several occasions, CHC has called for the lawsuits of Anna Karapetian and Snjezana Pelivan to be settled by amicable means. Personal letters signed by Anna Sabatova and CHC appeals were never answered by RFE/RL management, BBG, or any other American institution. Already three times, RFE/RL’s discriminatory labor policies were discussed on the floor of the Czech Parliament. No American reaction whatsoever.


Senator Stetina asks  John Kerry — “if such a mode of operations – to ignore, disregard, not to react – is appropriate for American officials and institutions in relation to the friendly and allied Czech Republic.”


However, should not such a question be addressed to American institutions in the first place by President Milos Zeman who presents himself  as an “active president”? Or is American government simply too high a doorstep for the Czech President?

Incidentally, a relatively short time ago, when the Head of the Moscow Helsinki Group Lyudmila Alexeeva  protested  the treatement of Moscow employees of Radio Liberty (Svoboda), she was visited in Moscow personally, not only by RFE/RL president but by John Kerry himself.”

Lev Roitman retired from RFE/RL in 2005 as a senior commentator after more than 30 years of working for the station in New York, Munich and Prague. He is married to Snjezana Pelivan.