BBG Watch Commentary

Korn gets to leave with honor, Radio Liberty in Exile photo
Korn gets to leave with honor, Radio Liberty in Exile photo

In the world of U.S. international broadcasting, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), not everyone is treated equally. Journalists, especially if they are foreign-born and based in Moscow or Prague, can be fired without any warning or any prior explanation within a few hours.

The BBG does not apply the same rules to RFE/RL executives. We’re not suggesting it should because such treatment is degrading for any human being. But if RFE/RL executives can negotiate the terms of their departure and are given plenty of time to leave, foreign-born employees in Prague and in Moscow should be afforded the same treatment.

Rank-and-file journalists should be treated with dignity, their rights protected. They should be able to have an effective representation in dealings with the management.

That means, among other things, allowing journalists to challenge their dismissals through an orderly process. And even if employees are laid off, the management must allow them to say good bye to their audience instead of using security guards to stop them.

It is obvious that the institutionalized discrimination of foreign-born RFE/RL employees in the Czech Republic made it easier for the company executives to behave the same way in Russia. But while non-American and non-Czech foreign nationals working for RFE/RL in Prague are totally at the mercy of the American management, the fired Radio Liberty journalists in Moscow fought back and received strong support from the local human rights community. Their struggle continues.

A review of Radio Liberty ordered by the Broadcasting Board of Governors must include a full investigation of RFE/RL’s discriminatory personnel policies in Prague and at the various news bureaus. This is a job for a human rights lawyer. We don’t think that any BBG executive who had previously managed RFE/RL and used the same personnel policies can objectively conduct a review of this aspect of the company’s operations. It would represent an obvious conflict of interest, and the person would not have the expertise to knowledgeably and objectively analyze such personnel policies.

We have nothing against an internal review. But the current crisis at Radio Liberty also calls for an outside investigation during which attorneys and other specialists can determine why a federal agency and its grantees charged with promoting human rights abroad are violating human rights of its own foreign-born employees.