BBG Watch Commentary

One of the strongest supporters of fired Radio Liberty journalists, Russian human rights leader Lyudmila Alexeeva, visited Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) headquarters in Washington Friday at the invitation of newly-appointed acting president Kevin Klose.

In connection with the 60th anniversary of Radio Liberation’s (later Radio Liberty) first Russian broadcast, Alexeeva participated in a panel discussion at RFE/RL with another advocate for fired Radio Liberty staffers, American journalist and Russia scholar David Satter. Both of them have repeatedly called for fired journalists to return to Radio Liberty and criticized the former management responsible for the mass dismissals and programming changes. Alexeeva has written protest letters and appeals on behalf of the fired journalists to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, members of the U.S. Congress, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency in charge of RFE/RL, and most recently to Kevin Klose. In her letter to Kevin Klose, Alexeeva said that some of the responsible managers, including the director of the Russian Service Masha Gessen, do not understand Radio Liberty’s mission and in her opinion should leave their posts.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) issued a press release, RFE/RL Marks Anniversary With A Dialogue On Liberty:

“Nobel Peace Prize nominee and human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva joined journalist David Satter for a “Dialogue on Liberty” in celebration of the 60th Anniversary of Radio Liberty’s first broadcast in Russia. Ms. Alekseyeva, who is a founding member of the Helsinki Moscow Watch Group and who freelanced for Radio Liberty in the 1980s, spoke to a group of journalists, broadcasters and Russian human rights activists at the March 1 event at the Washington, D.C. office of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

She also took a moment to meet with BBG Governor Susan McCue and Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine.”

In November, 2012, Alexeeva confronted former RFE/RL president Steven Korn in a meeting in Moscow, telling him that he had treated Radio Liberty journalists worse than repugnant Russian capitalists treat their employees. Korn claims that all journalists resigned voluntarily and were treated with great respect by RFE/RL managers. Longtime broadcasters were prevented by the management from saying good bye to their audience and escorted out of the the RFE/RL Moscow bureau by security guards.

Gessen insist that she was not responsible for the firing of the journalists, which happened after her appointment was announced, but before she officially came on board. She later brought to Radio Liberty members of her current team.

LYUDMILA ALEXEEVA: “In the words of Mr. Korn, the station should not work the way it has worked for the entire last 60 years.

Although it was true to its name and it was respected because of it in this country. I can attest to it as someone who since 1977 has been freelancing for Radio Liberty.

With the exception of the last few weeks, since 1977, I have not missed a single week being on the air, regardless of what was going on in my life, because I had great respect for these words ‘Liberty,’ ‘Radio Liberty.’

And I thought we were working the right way.

You are saying that now we need to work differently because the world has changed.

Of course, and our country has changed. But Mr. Korn, we have also changed as our country has changed. And the people who have worked at Radio Liberty, they have also changed in the last 20 years.

And believe me, we understand our listeners better then you who do not speak our language.

May be you want to make Radio Liberty a beautiful station using all your strengths. I have concluded that Radio Liberty is interesting. It has its niche. It has its listeners.

When does the new programming start? November 10, I think. You already in September, in one day…

You know, even in conditions of our wild capitalism, which the whole world finds repugnant, people are not treated the way you treated the people at Radio Liberty.

I was at Radio Liberty on that day. I don’t go there too often. It was a shock for everybody and for me too.

OK, we did not work the right way. May be it’s difficult to see it from the inside. May be. You talk about this and that, about telephones. But about this glorious concept, which forms the basis of programming, I don’t know. What is this concept?

What is this concept? What’s in it? Can you explain it to me? Why did you kill the old Radio Liberty already in September?

You didn’t wait till November 10. Why did you do it? Why? So that we would hear what? How are you going to create this?

You said that you will increase the number of freelancers.

I don’t know to whom you will turn with this proposal. I don’t know if I will be among them. I work the old way since 1977. You understand?

I am obviously too old and hopeless. But who will be the new freelancers?

About what will they be required to talk that we did not talk about?

And about what will they be silent that we were not silent about?

Can you answer for me this question? And this for me more important than all the talk about the frequencies and new youthful audience.

May be it’s true that you should broadcast to a young audience. But you also have to tell something to the youth.

It would be interesting for me to know what exactly is this concept for which you kicked out everybody and brought in Masha Gessen and who knows who else.”

RFE/RL acting President Kevin Klose with Lyudmila Alexeeva and David Satter
RFE/RL acting President Kevin Klose with Lyudmila Alexeeva and David Satter

In an interview on Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy with fired Radio Liberty political reporter Mikhail Sokolov, David Satter said that the actions of the previous RFE/RL management resulted in “a huge loss for American public diplomacy. These decisions cannot be tolerated and accepted as a fait accompli.”

The Broadcasting Board of Governors also issued another press release, Radio Liberty Celebrates 60 Years Defending Free Speech, with more information on the event in Washington on March 1:


“WASHINGTON , D.C. –  “Listen! Listen! Today, a new radio station, Liberation, begins its broadcasts.”

Those words, spoken by broadcaster Sergei Dubrovsky on March 1, 1953, were the first to be transmitted by Radio Liberty, a new voice with a mission to promote “the principles of democracy” to Russian listeners behind the Iron Curtain.

Sixty years later, friends of Radio Liberty (Radio Svoboda, as it is known in Russia) gathered in Washington, Prague and Moscow to celebrate its legacy and future as one of the most respected sources of independent journalism throughout the Russian Federation and beyond.

“(Radio Liberty is) journalism which is guided by an independent, skeptical, constant iterative search for factual reality, verifiable facts, context and consideration of many points of view,” said Kevin Klose, Acting President and CEO of RFE/RL, at an event commemorating the anniversary today at the company’s Washington bureau. “That kind of journalism is a first, powerful step to allowing communities of people to share uncensored information…so they can get a very clear picture of the issues in front of them.”

The modern Radio Liberty is a multimedia, 24-hour news operation across nine time zones, broadcasting on radio, video, satellite, mobile and Internet platforms. Its extensive network of journalists can be found in Moscow, Prague and New York City, and includes freelancers throughout the Russian Federation, Europe and Israel. The service has completed its move to a new bureau in Moscow, an open and flexible workspace complete with a state-of-the-art television studio.

Recently, the Russian service enhanced its live video streams and provided unique reporting from major events, including Moscow’s “March of Millions” protest, the trial of members of the punk-collective Pussy Riot, the struggle of rights activists, and the ongoing controversy surrounding U.S.-Russian adoptions.

Lyudmila Alekseyeva, Russian human rights leader, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and stalwart Radio Liberty supporter, joined author and journalist David Satter in a “Dialogue on Liberty” discussion at today’s RFE/RL Washington event.

“Radio Liberty was not a station broadcasting from overseas, it was our station. And as a result of Radio Liberty, we were able to speak to our fellow citizens,” Alekseyeva said. “I’m convinced that the rapid informing of an entire huge country that there existed a human rights movement was possible because of the existence of Radio Liberty.”

Dignitaries including Karel Schwarzenberg, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, home to RFE/RL’s headquarters, praised the work of Radio Liberty. In a letter celebrating its anniversary, Schwarzenberg wrote, “Always a reliable provider of unbiased, uncensored and balanced news…Radio Liberty has been everything that totalitarian media are not.”

In Moscow, Russian Service Director Masha Gessen met with U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who congratulated Radio Liberty on its anniversary. Additionally, the Moscow bureau was connected via video link with colleagues throughout RFE/RL to toast Svoboda, and included a poignant recollection by Ruslan Gelischanow, deputy director of the Russian Service, of learning about Radio Liberty as a five-year-old in a displaced persons camp in Germany.

In the days and weeks following the launch of the 1953 Russian broadcast, Radio Liberty added programming in other languages of the Soviet Union, including Georgian, Armenian, Azeri, and the languages of Central Asia. In 1955, the radio set up transmitters in Taiwan to make its Russian-language programs available to residents in eastern parts of Siberia and along the Soviet Union’s Pacific coast.

Radio Liberty and its sister station Radio Free Europe, which broadcast to Eastern Europe, merged in 1976 under the name RFE/RL. Broadcasting to 21 countries in 28 languages, and with over 400 full-time journalists, 750 freelancers, and 19 local bureaus, RFE/RL is one of the most comprehensive multimedia news operations in the world.”

In a letter to Klose, Alexeeva asked for fired Radio Liberty Russian Service journalists to be allowed to return to their jobs of reporting on human rights abuses and political issues in Russia.

Alexeeva also wrote to Klose that the director of the Russian Service Masha Gessen and RFE/RL Vice President of Content Julia Ragona, elevated to their current positions by Klose’s predecessor Steven Korn, “do not understand the organization’s mission, and, in my opinion, should leave their posts.”

Saying that these two managers insist on “making…programming more entertainment-oriented,” Alexeeva wrote: “We are more than adequately entertained by government-owned television networks and radio stations. Human rights reportage and cogent political analysis is what we are lacking.”

The Korn management team claimed that their proposals for programming changes were necessary to attract a new audience, but the Russian Service is being boycotted in Russia by key former supporters and its website has lost a significant number of former visitors.

During a highly emotional meeting in Moscow last week that lasted nearly five hours, Klose met with representatives of fired Radio Liberty journalists. Klose also met last week in Moscow with Russia’s leading human rights activists and democratic political leaders, including Lyudmila Alexeeva.

SEE PDF Copy of Lyudmila Alexeeva’s Letter to Acting RFE/RL President Kevin Klose

At a gathering in Moscow of Russian journalists, intellectuals, artists, human rights leaders and politicians to mark the 60th anniversary of Radio Liberty, dismissed Radio Liberty political reporter Mikhail Sokolov read a short message from the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) Deputy Director Jeff Trimble who had previously been silent in public on the plight of fired Radio Liberty Moscow bureau reporters, web editors and other media professionals.

Before this week, only BBG member Ambassador Victor Ashe spoke publicly about the Radio Liberty crisis and condemned the firing of journalists. But acting behind the scenes, the BBG board had reportedly asked former RFE/RL president Steven Korn to step down and later selected Kevin Klose, a distinguished journalist and media executive, to replace him. Korn denies that he was forced out.

Trimble’s message, as well as messages sent to the fired Radio Liberty journalists by some of the members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), may be a signal that the leadership of the federal agency in charge of U.S. international broadcasting is now ready to resolve the crisis caused by the mass dismissal of journalists and termination of many popular radio and online programs on human rights and other political issues in Russia.

BBG Governor Victor Ashe issued a statement in which he apologized on his own behalf for what happened to dozens of reporters taken off the air and dismissed by the previous management of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Radio Liberty in Exile journalists have also received responses from RFE/RL Board chair, BBG Governor Dennis Mulhaupt, and RFE/RL Board vice-chair, BBG Governor Susan McCue.