This opinion piece was submitted by a journalist who works at the headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Prague, the Czech Republic.
The writer, who uses the pen name Jan Palach, was responding to questions posted earlier by another anonymous RFE/RL employee:
“Is anyone actually noticing the disaster being perpetrated against Radio Free Europe by its new management? Is anyone going to stop this madness?”
The RFE/RL journalist wrote that according to what he had been told, only four BBG Governors are likely to attend the June Board meeting in Prague. That information is subject to change and BBG members may participate in the meeting by telephone. Granted, that is not the same as being in Prague and being able to talk to RFE/RL employees. That requires getting away from the RFE/RL top management handlers who will no doubt hover over the Governors. BBG Watch received reports earlier that RFE/RL President Steven Korn tried to discourage BBG members from going to Prague. He reportedly cited the need to save money. Subsequently, he himself embarked on a number of foreign travels. There was speculation that he did not want Board members to poke around RFE/RL.
The anonymous journalist presents three theories circulating among RFE/RL employees in Prague with regard to what their management is doing and what may be the BBG’s plans regarding the future of RFE/RL. These theories do not necessarily reflect the truth, but they are symptomatic of a work force being kept in the dark and deeply unhappy with their management.
It is not likely that the Obama Administration or BBG Governors have a single master plan for RFE/RL. BBG Governors often do not agree with each other. The Board is bipartisan. Recently, some BBG members have been trying to assert their authority vis-a-vis the BBG and IBB staff and are asking difficult questions.
The BBG executive staff is a different story. They do want to keep as much control and power for themselves and to manage information reaching BBG members. Their plans change depending on what may be in their best interest at any given moment. They also look for a patron among Board members like Walter Isaacson or S. Enders Wimbush. Walter Isaacson is gone and with him went some of his grandiose plans. With BBG members becoming more inquisitive, the BBG executive staff will have a more difficult time building up their bureaucratic empire at the expense of journalism. This may potentially be good news for RFE/RL. Let’s hope it is.
We offer this opinion piece by an anonymous RFE/RL journalist for further discussion.
Does anyone care about Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty?
opinions gathered by anonymous RFE/RL journalist
Is anyone noticing what is happening at RFE/RL? That is a really good question. As I read this site, most of the attention for the past month or so has been on VOA, Tibet and China, so I do not think we on the forefront of anyone’s mind at the Governors or BBG staff. In fact, we were told on Monday that only four Governors are expected to come to Prague in June for that month’s board meeting. This is a very strong signal that at least four members of the board are not that interested in learning how their actions are affecting our work. Perhaps they are afraid to look us in the eyes, after providing us with a management team that places little value on the actual journalism we are presenting to our audiences.
As to the original questions posed I assume by one of my colleagues here at RFE/RL, I have heard three theories as to why our current management behaves the way they do.
The first is that they are truly in over their heads. Our President did some tangential work for CNN and his friend former Governor Isaacson brought him on board because he dreamed of reliving that triumph by creating a new CNN. Once he realized that competing with private news outlets was not what the U.S. taxpayers hired him for, Chairman Isaacson left, and now President Korn is left without clear instructions, and is now looking to find a new path. This would explain his recent attempts at outreach to the RFE/RL staff. If we were not too afraid to give him the advice of the collective experience of hundreds of journalists, we might be able to redirect his efforts more productively.
The second theory is that the current team was chosen to make us more compliant when it comes time to consolidate the operations of the grantees. Maybe after a year or two a senior management team that shows very little interest in our actual work, we will be so happy for the opportunity to work for someone else, that we will willingly embrace the change of management, even if it means a change in the focus of our journalism.
The third theory is the most widespread amongst my colleagues, which is unfortunate as it is the one that most affects morale. The theory goes that President Korn was brought in to close down RFE/RL, and that ignoring our output and shifting our focus from radio to the web, our stories will be lost in clutter of available information on the internet. This assumes that unfriendly governments will not be blocking access to our websites, which is a dubious assumption at best. The overriding sentiment of backers of this theory is that the U.S. Government does not want to continue to fund U.S. International Broadcasting, and they have instructed the BBG to move away from radio and TV, put all of us onto the internet to wither and die on the vine. Then when it is shown that our message is being lost, it will be easy to convince Congress that USIB is no longer needed.
Regardless of the validity of any of the above theories, my colleagues and I will continue to do our best for the audiences in our respective home countries until such a time as we are no longer needed by them or wanted by the BBG.