BBG Watch Commentary
The latest human rights organization to send a letter to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in protest against discrimination of foreign-born journalists working for Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Czech Republic is the Bosnia and Herzegovina Helsinki Committee. The organization sent the letter to the BBG in response to an appeal from the Czech Helsinki Committee.
In letters addressed to Broadcasting Board of Governors Chairman Jeff Shell and U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel, human rights organizations and individual human rights activists are demanding that RFE/RL, which is funded by U.S. taxpayers and overseen by the BBG, end its longstanding policy of denying the protections of the Czech labor law to foreign-born journalists working for RFE/RL in Prague.
While RFE/RL has recently reformed many of its management practices and is considered to be generally well-managed and effective in its media outreach to countries without free press, this longstanding discriminatory treatment of its foreign workers has not yet been addressed by RFE/RL or BBG and has become a public relations nightmare for the organization that generates many news programs about human rights in nations ruled by authoritarian regimes.
For years, foreign-born journalists working for RFE/RL in the Czech Republic have had far fewer rights and protections than its American and Czech employees. These foreign citizens employed by RFE/RL in the Czech Republic can be subject to arbitrary removal and other adverse personnel actions without being able to defend their rights to the same degree as other RFE/RL employees. One of such former foreign employees, Snjezana Pelivan, is a Croatian citizen and daughter of Jure Pelivan, the first Prime Minister of independent Bosnia and Herzegovina who died on July 18. Supported by human rights organizations in her native Croatia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ms. Pelivan is suing RFE/RL in the European Court of Human Rights. The Bosnia and Herzegovina Helsinki Committee is now on record supporting her action to change RFE/RL labor practices.
In an earlier action in support of Snjezana Pelivan, another former RFE/RL broadcaster, Armenian journalist Anna Karapetian, who is also suing RFE/RL for discrimination, and foreign journalists currently employed by RFE/RL in Prague, the Czech Helsinki Committee appealed for support and solidarity in RFE/RL-BBG matters to human rights organizations in more than thirty countries.
Previous letters sent by the Czech Helsinki Committee to the Broadcasting Board of Governors have been ignored. The Czech Helsinki Committee has also appealed for help to prominent Czech politicians, some of whom also sent letters to the BBG which have also been ignored.
The Czech Helsinki Committee was co-founded by Vaclav Havel and is now headed by Tana Fischerova who was a candidate in last year’s Czech presidential elections. The previous head of the Czech Helsinki Committee, Anna Sabatova, who also wrote letters to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, was elected by the Czech Parliament the Human Rights Defender of the Czech Republic.
BBG Watch has also learned that the legendary Russian human rights defender Sergei Kovalev, in his capacity as the board member of International Society “Memorial,” emailed his protest letter to BBG Chairman Jeff Shell with a copy to Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel who represents Secretary of State John Kerry at BBG meetings.
Sergei Kovalev is also the president of NGO Institute of Human Rights in Moscow. Kovalev was a political prisoner in the former Soviet Union. He received the French Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur (2006), was the first Human Rights Ombudsman of the Russian Federation (1994 – 1995) and the Chairman of Presidential Human Rights Commission (1993 – 1996) under Boris Yeltsyn. In 1995 and 1996, Kovalev was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Kovalev was one of many prominent Russian human rights activists who in 2012 defended Radio Liberty journalists in Russia fired by the previous RFE/RL management. Thanks to the intervention of several BBG members, the RFE/RL management team in Prague was replaced and many of the fired journalists were rehired.
Human rights organizations and activists are still hopeful that Chairman Shell and the Broadcasting Board of Governors will also address and resolve the issue of the rights of foreign journalists working for RFE/RL in the Czech Republic.
From: Czech Helsinki Committee (CHC)
Contact person: Lucie Rybová, director of CHC
T: (+420) 777 220 503 |(+420) 602 646 940
150 00 Praha 5
To: Albanian Helsinki Committee
Assemblée européenne des citoyens, France
Association Européenne pour la Défense des droits de l’Homme (AEDH)
Armenian Helsinki Committee
Azerbaijan Human Rights House
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
Danish Helsinki Committee
Finnish Helsinki Committee
Free Word Center, United Kingdom
Greece Helsinki Monitor
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Serbia
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Poland
Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia for Human Rights
Human Rights House Federation Switzerland
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Without Frontiers International
Human Rights House Zagreb
Human Rights House Tbilisi
Human Rights House Bergen, Norway
Hungarian Helsinki Committee
Italian Helsinki Committee
Latvian Center for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies
Lithuanian Human Rights Association
Moldovan Helsinki Committee for Human Rights
Macedonian Committee for Human Rights
Netherlands Helsinki Committee
Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Romanian Helsinki Committee
Slovak Helsinki Committee
Swedish Civil Rights Defenders
The Moscow Helsinki Group
Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
10th July 2014
Dear colleagues and human rights defenders!
Please send on your letterhead the attached letter of concern “Stop Human Rights Violations by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty” to the Chairman of United States Federal agency Broadcasting Board of Governors (hereafter “BBG”) Mr. Jeffrey Shell:email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org;email@example.com. Understandably, you may change the suggested text.
BBG is in charge of all American non-military broadcasting organizations worldwide and serves as the Board of Directors for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (hereafter “RFE/RL”) located in Prague. Members of BBG are assigned by U.S. President and confirmed by the Senate. Secretary of State serves on BBG ex officio. According to International Broadcasting Act of the United States, BBG” makes all major policy determinations governing the operations of RFE/RL.”
From Prague, RFE/RL broadcasts in 28 languages to 21 countries and employs hundreds of foreigners, among them also non-Czech and non-American, who works as journalists, broadcasters and technicians. They represent the bulk of RFE/RL editorial personnel. For not clear reasons general RFE/RL employment contracts discriminate employees from the countries of former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and put them into legal vacuum by excluding the application of Czech labor legislation in their contracts.
Financed by U.S. Congress, RFE/RL is the largest institution of American public diplomacy abroad. RFE/RL’s labor policies and actions violate its own officially proclaimed mission: “to promote democratic values and institutions,” “strengthen civil societies by projecting democratic values,” “provide a model for local media,” etc.
RFE/RL’s labor policies resulted in the ongoing lawsuits critically covered by international media. Our letters to BBG Chairman, RFE/RL president and to other American officials were ignored and never answered. Equally, BBG ignored the recent appeal by International Labor Rights Forum too.
Therefore, we request your support and solidarity in defense of human rights. Discriminative labor policies practiced by RFE/RL should be changed; protracted lawsuits caused by those policies should be ended by fair peaceful resolutions.
We shall be grateful if you inform us per email after your solidarity action is undertaken.
Thank you in advance.
Chairman of Czech Helsinki Committee
firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org:
Mr. Jeffrey Shell
Broadcasting Board of Governors
330 Independence Avenue, SW Washington, DC 20237
Stop Human Rights Violations by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Attention Mr. Shell
Herewith, we express our determined support and solidarity with Czech Helsinki Committee, whose open letter to you “Radio Free Europe: Labor Policies Shall be Changed”, as well as Letter to RFE/RL’s President were either ignored, not responded or not acted upon. These and a number of similar appeals are in public domain due to broad international media coverage.
Broadcasting Board of Governors (hereafter “BBG”) acts as exclusive Board of Directors for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (hereafter “RFE/RL”) and, according to U.S. International Broadcasting Act of 1994, ”makes all major policy determinations governing the operations of RFE/RL.” As its key mission, BBG proclaims: “To inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy”. Also RFE/RL’s stated mission and goals are: “to promote democratic values and institutions,” “to strengthen civil societies by projecting democratic values,” “to provide a model for local media,” etc.
From Prague, RFE/RL broadcasts in 28 languages to 21 countries and employs several hundreds of persons. Foreigners constitute the bulk of RFE/RL editorial personnel. Large group (over two hundred) staff like editors, broadcasters, technicians and other media specialists are from the countries of former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan.
For not clear reasons employees of RFE/RL are artificially divided into three unequal castes. American citizens are protected by American laws and have access to American courts. Czechs are covered by Czech legislation enforceable in Czech courts. Foreigners from third countries are deprived of legal protection of both American and Czech labor laws. Therefore, there is a disparity in employment legal safeguards.
All non-Czech employees of RFE/RL are provided with uniform employment agreements deceptively referring to “applicable American laws.” In reality, however, American laws are inapplicable to foreigners working for U.S. employers abroad. Using reference to American laws which are inapplicable, RFE/RL places group of foreign employees from the countries of former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan etc. into legal vacuum by excluding the application of Czech labor laws.
American lawyers employed by BBG and RFE/RL are quite aware about it. But editors, broadcasters, technicians and other media specialists from the countries of former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan employed by RFE/RL in Prague, are not American lawyers. They trusted that RFE/RL provided them with honest employment agreements.
It is therefore not quite clear why RFE/RL intentionally deprives part of its foreign employees in Prague of any enforceable labor rights.
Thus, the current lawsuits triggered by RFE/RL’s discriminatory labor policies (case of Armenian citizen Anna Karapetian, mother of three minor children, is in Czech Constitutional Court; Croatian Snjezana Pelivan appealed to European Court of Human Rights), which are critically covered by international media.
After years of service with “very good” and “excellent” performance reviews, both women were terminated without previous warning, any stated reason or cause. They refused to sign the acceptance of arbitrary unmotivated terminations and give up in writing their right of appeal to court – which means without compensations for years of work at RFE/RL. They were neither the first nor the last to be fired in such circumstances.
BBG remains adamant to the powerful media echo from international public opinion which is highly detrimental to the reputation of RFE/RL – the largest institution of American public diplomacy overseas entrusted to BBG.
RFE/RL’s labor policies deprive its predominantly foreign editorial staff – the very soul, substance and tongues of radio broadcasts — of human and professional dignity. They become expendable mercenaries heralding on-air about democratic rights and rule of law benefits withheld from them by their own employer – RFE/RL. Presently, instead of exemplifying democratic values, RFE/RL sends to its audiences a false example financed by American Congress via BBG.
With reference to Czech Helsinki Committee and International Labor Rights Forum, we request your attention and action without delay. Undoubtedly, RFE/RL’s labor policies must be changed in accordance to its democratic values. The ongoing lawsuits should be revalued for peaceful resolutions by the initiative of BBG-RFE/RL.
RFE/RL, organization of public diplomacy, lost international public opinion just by entering the court room against its employees, which cannot be changed anymore, but can be corrected for the future occurrence. It is in your power to prevent further public damage to RFE/RL’s reputation and respect. Inactivity of BBG is ruinous to the trustworthiness of RFE/RL whose broadcasts are unique to non-democratic countries.
(your name and position)