Commentary by Lev Roitman
Former senior commentator at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Lev Roitman, who retired from the Russian Service after more than 30 years of service in New York, Munich and Prague, called on interim RFE/RL president Kevin Klose to start making decisions on removal of failed managers, returning fired journalists to work, and eliminating employee discrimination and lawsuits plaguing the U.S. taxpayer-funded media freedom broadcaster.
Roitman made his plea in a videotaped message to a gathering in Moscow organized on March 1 by Radio Liberty in Exile to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the station’s first Russian broadcast.
Radio Liberty in Exile includes dozens of journalists fired in September 2012 by the previous RFE/RL management and journalists who resigned in protest. Their supporters include some of the leading Russian human rights activists like Lyudmila Alexeeva and leading democratic politicians like Mikhail Gorbachev. They along with other public figures, independent journalists, artists and intellectuals have been boycotting the official Radio Liberty in Russia since last September.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency in charge of U.S. international broadcasting, selected Kevin Klose, a distinguished journalist and media executive who once before had led RFE/RL in the 1990s, to resolve the Radio Liberty crisis.
Klose is widely respected among fired Radio Liberty journalists. Last week he had an emotional meeting with their representatives in Moscow lasting nearly five hours. He also met Lyudmila Alexeeva and other Russian opposition leaders who support the fired Radio Liberty team and oppose the current programming policy of the Russian Service.
While they have high hopes that Klose will make the right decisions, fired journalists and their supporters are becoming anxious that he has not yet acted on some of the critical issues.
In addition to returning the fired staff to Radio Liberty, Klose also faces the issue of two lawsuits relating to longstanding discrimination against foreign-born RFE/RL journalists and other employees who are denied basic protections of the Czech labor law and are prevented from organizing a union. This exposes RFE/RL to charges of hypocrisy as the station advocates for workers’ rights in Iran, Russia and in other countries ruled by authoritarain governments.
Lev Roitman, married to one of the former employees who have filed discrimination lawsuits against the broadcaster, alluded in his message to negative media publicity in the Czech Republic, Russia and in other countries generated by RFE/RL’s discriminatory personnel and labor policies. Before the appointment of Kevin Klose, the Czech Helsinki Committee, a leading human rights NGO, issued a statement condemning RFE/RL for abusing its employees both in Prague and in Moscow.
Мультимедиа выступление Льва Ройтмана на встрече друзей Радио Свобода “60 лет в борьбе за права человека”. Встреча организована сообществом журналистов “Радио Свобода в изгнании”. 1 марта 2013 года. Москва.
LEV ROITMAN’S COMMENTARY:
I address you with a heavy heart. That Radio Svoboda (Radio Liberty), to which I devoted thirty years of my life – in New York, Munich, and then Prague – does not exist anymore.
The time is out of joint. At the helm of the Radio that today officially calls itself “Svoboda” (Liberty), is a person for whom public hypocrisy is not only the breathing environment but also a matter of personal pride. Your New Svoboda (New Liberty – Radio Liberty in Exile) that embodies the old one, celebrates the anniversary today and strives to preserve its name, famous in modern Russian history – your Svoboda is Svoboda in Exile, Svoboda on barricades, wretched Svoboda, Svoboda in trenches. But it’s also the emerging Svoboda.
Yours is an unusual, double start – to the past and future at the same time. In the past, yours and our Svoboda had a simple — and therefore incredibly difficult everyday task: to say what the others were prohibited from saying; to offer free speech rights to those who were deprived of free speech; not to entertain or amuse but to wake up; informing instead of zombying. That’s what Svoboda shall become also in the future. It will be its double start. If and when allowed.
The terrible figure of Steven Korn belongs to the day past. Today, as the saying goes, don’t be afraid of the devil, but beware of his offspring. As before, that offspring sits in Svoboda’s Moscow office, in Prague headquarters of the radio station. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has a new Acting President, a President for one year – Kevin Klose. He is trusted with hope to bring back to the Radio its destroyed good reputation.
More than a month has elapsed since his assignment, but he is not acting yet. Not acting in Moscow. Not acting in Prague. Meanwhile, devil’s offspring remains in its chairs. In Moscow. In Prague. In Moscow, you don’t know what a new day will bring for you.
Will that be a day for the Radio’s new start, your start? Will the evil’s offspring follow the set example and leave the Radio for good? We don’t know.
However, what is well known in Prague, known in all language services who will mark soon their own 60th anniversaries, is that the reputation of their Radio is trampled down in mud by international media, for the lawsuit against the Radio brought by an Armenian national Anna Karapetian is in the Czech Supreme Court, the case of a Croatian national Snjezana Pelivan is pending in the European Court of Human Rights. It is public knowledge in Prague that, unless these court cases are not curtailed by peaceful resolutions, the claim against the United States – because Radio Free Europe/Liberty is an American Radio – will be submitted to United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. This is known also to the Radio’s Acting President. But he is not acting.
Foreign personnel of the radio station – core of the Russian and other language desks – is reduced to the status of mercenaries deprived of rights. The Czech Helsinki Committee wrote that abhorrent personnel activities of the Radio in Moscow and Prague are links of the same chain.
To you and the Radio, I wish a new start. However, it is difficult to start with weights on one’s legs. These weights are the present reputation of the Radio as a whole. In Russia and in all the countries to which this Radio broadcasts. Moral hypocrisy is a shaky ground for a successful start.
To the Acting President Kevin Klose, I wish that he realizes this fact as soon as possible. And that he will act.