BBG Watch Commentary

The senior management of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), led by RFE/RL president Thomas Kent and vice president Nenad Pejic, has fired one of the organization’s most respected journalists Dr. David Kakabadze who was until January 30 director of RFE/RL’s Georgian Service. The firing of Dr. Kakabadze was supported by the head of RFE/RL’s managing U.S. federal agency, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John Lansing, an Obama administration era appointee. The management of RFE/RL also appears to be in conflict with many of the organization’s women journalists. Two of the award-winning women journalists who have recently resigned in protest have posted critical comments on Facebook. RFE/RL Bureau Chief in Tbilisi Dr. Marina Vashakmadze, also resigned in protest on Wednesday.

Media in Georgia is reporting widely on the latest scandal. Most Georgian media reports have been highly critical of RFE/RL’s senior management.


Imedi TV, airs at 8 PM and on Jan. 31 included a 4min plus story about RFE/RL’s management decision to fire David Kakabadze. The story quotes and shows the BBG Watch report.

ქრონიკა 20:00 საათზე – 31 იანვარი, 2018 წელი 41:51

ქრონიკა 20:00 საათზე – 31 იანვარი, 2018 წელი

RFERL Tbilisi Bureau Chief, Marina Vashakmadze, resigns— Ajara TV report

”რადიო თავისუფლების თბილისის ბიუროს ხელმძღვანელმა მარინა ვაშაყმაძემ თანამდებობა დატოვა” – დავით კაკაბაძე – აჭარის ტელევიზია

”რადიო თავისუფლების თბილისის ბიუროს ხელმძღვანელმა მარინა ვაშაყმაძე…
ამის შესახებ დავით კაკაბაძებ საზოგადოებრივი მაუწყებლის აჭარის ტელევიზიის ეთრეში განაცხადა…


დავით კაკაბაძე – იმედი მაქვს, მხოლოდ ჩემი გათავისუფლებით შემოიფარგლებიან​ – 1TV
დავით კაკაბაძე – იმედი მაქვს, მხოლოდ ჩემი გათავისუფლებით შემოიფარგლებიან​ -…
​რადიო “თავისუფლების” (RFE/RL) ქართული სამსახურის დირექტორი დავით კაკაბაძე სამსახურიდან გაათავისუფლეს. როგორც და…

RFE/RL Georgian Service CHIEF FIRED

რადიო თავისუფლების ქართული სამსახურის დირექტორი დავით კაკაბაძე გაათავისუფლეს

რადიო თავისუფლების ქართული სამსახურის დირექტორი დავით კაკაბაძე გაათავისუფლეს
რადიო თავისუფლების (RFE/RL) ქართული სამსახურის დირექტორი დავით კაკაბაძე სამსახურიდან გაათავისუფლეს. ამის შესახებ…

David Kakabadze does not exclude a possibility other Tavisupleba staff will be fired too. Primetime.Ge

დავით კაკაბაძე არ გამორიცხავს, რომ “რადიო თავისუფლებიდან” სხვა თანამშრომლებიც გაათავისუფლონ – Primetime.Ge

დავით კაკაბაძე არ გამორიცხავს, რომ “რადიო თავისუფლებიდან” სხვა თა…
By GEWEB.GE – Web, Mobile & Software Development Studio
რადიო თავისუფლების (RFE/RL) ქართული სამსახურის დირექტორი დავით კაკაბაძე სამსახურიდან გაათავისუფლეს. …

DAVID KAKABADZE: I think ratings are more important for RFE/RL management than values

დავით კაკაბაძე: ვფიქრობ, რადიოს ხელმძღვანელობისთვის რეიტინგი ღირებულებებზე წინაა |

დავით კაკაბაძე: ვფიქრობ, რადიოს ხელმძღვანელობისთვის რეიტინგი ღირებულებებზე …
#ნეტგაზეთი #საქართველო დავით კაკაბაძე: ვფიქრობ, რადიოს ხელმძღვანელობისთვის რეიტინგი ღირებულებებზე წინაა

AJara Public TV: our success largely depended and still depends on our cooperation with Tavisupleba

აჭარის მაუწყებელი: ”ჩვენი წარმატება მნიშვნელოვნად იყო და არის დამოკიდებული „რადიო თავისუფლებასთან – აჭარის ტელევიზია

აჭარის მაუწყებელი: ”ჩვენი წარმატება მნიშვნელოვნად იყო და არის დამო…
აჭარის საზოგადოებრივი მაუწყებლის განცხადება

The firing of David Kakabadze also drew strong condemnations from some of RFE/RL’s former top women reporters who recently resigned from the organization citing deep frustration with the senior leadership and its heavy-handed management style. The day after Dr. Kakabadze was fired, another highly-respected woman journalist, RFE/RL Bureau Chief in Tbilisi Dr. Marina Vashakmadze, also resigned in protest. Sources told BBG Watch that the management offered Dr. Kakabadze another position within RFE/RL but he declined to accept it. The cause of his firing appears to be a dispute with RFE/RL’s senior management.

Prior to Dr. Kakabadze’s firing and the resignation of Dr. Vashakmadze, over a hundred top Georgian academics, writers, artists and other well-known individuals sent a letter to John Lansing. They expressed their support of the Georgian Service and their resistance to the pressure from the management to affiliate with a partisan television station in Georgia. Kakabadze, Vashakmadze and journalists working for the Georgian Service in Prague and in Georgia strongly opposed the management’s proposal, stating that it would destroy RFE/RL’s credibility in Georgia. The service also sent a letter to John Lansing and his deputy Jeff Trimble. In their letter, they expressed their support for the service director and blamed the RFE/RL management for inability to have a collegial dialogue with journalists. Two award-winning women journalists who resigned recently from other RFE/RL services made similar charges against RFE/RL senior managers. The appeal of the RFE/RL Georgian Service journalists in defense of their service director was ignored by BBG CEO John Lansing, as was the appeal of Georgian intellectuals and similar appeals in an online petition signed by over 1,000 Georgians.

Dr. David Kakabadze was the Director of RFE/RL’s Georgian Service from 2005 to 30 January 2018, having joined the company in Munich in 1993. Earlier, Kakabadze was a Konrad Adenauer Foundation fellow at the University of Cologne, where he wrote his PhD thesis in German literature. He chaired the Goethe Department at Tbilisi State University, and worked as an editor and correspondent in Tbilisi for several Georgian and Russian newspapers and magazines. Kakabadze’s writing on Georgian political events has appeared in numerous publications, especially in the German press, including Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, and General-Anzeiger. He has translated works of German, English and Czech authors into Georgian, including Goethe, Schnitzler, Frisch, Boell, Kaschnitz, Becker, Botho Strauss, Bichsel, Woolf, and Havel.

Dr. Marina Vashakmadze has PhD, Masters and BA degrees in journalism and until her resignation today was for several years RFE/RL’s Tbilisi Bureau Chief. Among her many roles, she moderated “Gender Stories,” a one-of-a kind radio program dedicated to the discussion of women’s issues in Georgia. Vashakmadze’s other professional positions have included director of the journalism department at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, visiting professor at Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication, and professor at the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management of the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA). Prior to joining RFE/RL, Vashakmadze served as director of the International Center for Journalists-Caucasus (CCFJ) and associate director of the Center’s ProMedia II project in support of investigative journalism, media law reform, and independent regional broadcasting. She has also founded, edited and consulted for several independent Georgian newspapers and magazines.

Award-winning women journalists who have resigned in protest in recent months are now speaking out publicly against RFE/RL’s senior leadership, accusing top managers of lack of vision, poor treatment of reporters, poor communication skills, behaving like “communist apparatchiks,” being in “career stagnation,” and generally “killing journalism” and any incentive to do good work.

The key critic of RFE/RL management is award-winning journalist Khadija Ismayilova. She is the recipient of the 2017 Magnitsky Award for her outstanding contribution to the promotion of human rights and the fight against corruption. She is also the recipient of the PEN American Center’s 2015 Barbara Goldsmith Freedom To Write Award, given annually to “an imprisoned writer persecuted for exercising her right to free expression” and the 2016 recipient of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. She was a political prisoner in Azerbaijan. She recently quit RFE/RL.

UK-based award-winning investigative reporter Shahida Tulaganova joined Khadija Ismayilova in criticizing the management of their former employer, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) for killing journalism, creativity and employee motivation.

Tulaganova wrote in her January 25, 2018 Facebook post, RFE/RL management “kills journalism, incentive and values we do this job for.” Khadija Ismayilova, who recently also had quit RFE/RL in frustration, wrote a day earlier that senior RFE/RL executives suffer from a crisis of career stagnation and don’t know how to communicate with journalists.

Uzbek-born Shahida Tulaganova has had a distinguished journalistic career since she left Uzbekistan and received a Master’s degree in diplomatic studies from University of Westminster. She was a co-producer of award-winning HBO USA/Czech Republic documentary film “Cries from Syria” which showed ISIS brutality. She interviewed all the individuals featured in the film and wrote the narration voiced by Helen Mirren.

Before accepting the job as producer of RFE/RL’s Russian language news program “Current Time” in 2014, which she said she left in “frustration” after two-and-a-half years during which time she was also managing editor and anchor, Shahida Tulaganova had worked for BBC’s Uzbek Service as a popular presenter from 1996 to 2002 before moving to BBC Television. According to RFE/RL’s own website article, Tulaganova won the 2006 Prix Europa for her film “How to Plan a Revolution” about young opposition activists in Azerbaijan. The RFE/RL article states that Tulaganova’s “film about passport forgery in the EU called ‘My Fake Passports and Me’ produced for BBC Panorama has become a case study in investigative journalism.” Her film, “Airport Donetsk,” was awarded first prize in Russia’s largest documentary film festival ArtDocFest.

Here are some transcribed quotes from these and other former RFE/RL women journalists. Most of them are public and can be seen on Facebook, a few were shared privately. With numerous RFE/RL and BBG press releases praising the accomplishments of these women journalists, the BBG and RFE/RL senior management can hardly claim now that they were poor journalists, bad employees and otherwise unfit to pass a good judgement.

“career stagnation” — senior managers

“unable to make good decisions” — senior managers

“paycheck rather than journalism” — senior managers

“Senior management of RFE/RL reacted to criticism and…. fired the chief of Georgian service. What I think about the move? I guess working in dictatorships have made its impact to the way of thinking of RFE/RL managers.”

“For all those who know David Kakabadze and his work, news of his sacking comes as a blow. David is a highly principled journalist who has led the Georgian Service with talent, integrity, and unwavering kindness for more than a decade. He enjoys wide respect among fellow journalists and has been key in making RFE/RL’s Georgian Service one of the most respected media outlets in Georgia. His forced departure is a huge loss for RFE/RL, for Georgian audiences, and for quality journalism.”

“Well said, darling! And like in dictatorships, where citizens are discarded as some nuisance coz the ruler knows best, the same way Georgian service staff is being treated by the company. Unbelievable!”

“Are you serious, dear managers of RFE/RL? Really? Didn’t manage to come up with smarter solution? A civilized one? A pro-journalism one?

This is all very sad.”

“I totally agree. Perhaps one day managers will realized that it takes years to become a respected journalist like David Kakabadze, whom I personally respect a lot. Managers need to learn to treasure the experience and knowledge of the staff who love what they do and despite the pressure, carry on a good service to the public.”

“A very sad day for the Georgian service. Their manager is an amazing human being not to mention a veteran journalist who has done an incredible job for Radio Tawisupleba. i can’t believe this is what the radio is turning into. Khadija is right and so is Shahida – killing journalism rather than letting journalists do their job is certainly on the agenda. just sad…”

“I support with every word written in this article. Time to shake up this organization. I’ve been there for 2.5 years and I left because of my frustration with management which kills journalism, incentive and values we do this job for. Well done, Georgian colleagues for standing up against this. And thank you, Khadija for speaking up about this.”

“Khadija made a very important point-it’s all about integrity, but management sometimes looses the ply, it seems… sad..”

“I hope this finds you well. I assume you are following the Georgian Service debacle, but did you know that longtime Service director Dadvid Kakabadze was fired yesterday? He is widely respected at RFE and beyond for his excellent work and his gentle manners. Everyone I have spoken to about this at RFE (not management) is deeply outraged.”

“My Georgian colleagues just informed me that Marina, the head of the Tbilisi bureau, has resigned after an intense argument with [RFE/RL manager], who flew to Tbilisi to rein in the team.”

“It’s very encouraging that people like u support Georgian service and in general support the idea of the need of change in both VOA and RFE/RL. At the moment it looks like RFE/RL has lost is sense of purpose and turned into a hub of communist type apparatchiks who are there for the sake of being there:) those r my impressions after [working] in Prague.”

“I left RFE/RL recently, when I felt it is difficult for me and my colleagues to make senior management (most of whom are in a crisis of career stagnation) to listen to its journalists.

Stand strong my dear Georgian colleagues, don’t compromise journalism. Unlike managers in Prague for you it is more than a workplace and paycheck – it is about the right to tell truth.”

The BBG Board, the State Department and the White House should listen to the voices of these outstanding women journalists.

Their courage to speak out against bad management should be applauded. Their complaints should be listened to in the White House, in the State Department and in the U.S. Congress.