BBG Watch Commentary

“The strategy of the development of the Russian Service was perceived very positively.” “There was no talk of concerns; no concerns were expressed.” — Radio Liberty Russian Service Director Masha Gessen

Director of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service categorically denied Russian media reports that the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the U.S. federal agency in charge of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), has ordered an inspection of her performance.

Masha Gessen said in a media interview that during a closed BBG meeting in Washington on Friday, “the strategy of the development of the Russian Service was perceived very positively.” “There was no talk of concerns; no concerns were expressed.”

«Я только что вернулась из Вашингтона. Там было довольно долгое обсуждение стратегии развития Русской службы, стратегия была воспринята очень положительно. Информация, о которой вы говорите, она с неавторизованного блога, и действительности не соответствует. Было закрытое заседание. Никакой речи об обеспокоенности, выражения обеспокоенности не было. Когда меняется адрес сайта, посещаемость всегда падает. Сейчас посещаемость вновь идет вверх».

A Russian media outlet, which quoted Gessen, reported, however, “К Русской службе Радио Свободы едет ревизор” – “An Inspector is going to the Russian Service of Radio Liberty.”

“В США решено проверить работу Русской службы Радио Свободы после массовых увольнений сотрудников. Директор Радио Свободы Маша Гессен заявила, что никакой обеспокоенности руководства нет.”

“It was decided in the United States to review the work of the Russian Service of Radio Liberty after the mass firing of employees. Radio Liberty (Russian Service) director Masha Gessen announced that there are no concerns regarding the (service’s) leadership.”

Masha Gessen blamed more than 50 percent drop in audience for her new Radio Liberty site on the change of address, even though the old domain name points to the new one. Losing half of your audience in two months cannot be explained away that easily.

Masha Gessen also wrote on her Facebook page:

Masha Gessen - No Inspection of Radio Liberty

“This is idiotic work to refute nonsense. But I have to. No, there is no inspection of the Russian Service of Radio Liberty. To everyone who shares a canard (false media report) about the alleged inspection announced by Michael Lynton, I advise to search on Google words “Michael Lynton”, and let’s say, ‘Russian’. Well, or ‘Inspection’. Well, or what else you are able to invent. There is no announcement. End of message.”

In response to a comment which included a link to the BBG website:

Gessen answered:

Masha Gessen - No Inspection But Review of Situation in Russia

“Oh, that’s it! You think that the words BBG commissioned a six-month review of the situation in Russia can be translated as “Michael Lynton announced an inspection of the Russian Service.” But in fact they are translated as “BBG commissioned review of the situation in Russia, which should be completed in 6 months. These are the difficulties of translation.”

BBG Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton did not, however, announced a review of the situation in Russia. He announced “a review of the recent developments in Moscow regarding RFE/RL to be led by Jeff Trimble.” (Jeff Trimble is the Deputy Director of the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau, IBB). Prior to his work at the BBG in Washington, Trimble had a 10-year career at RFE/RL, where his positions included Acting President, Counselor to the President for Programs and Policy, Director of Policy and Strategic Planning, and Director of Broadcasting.

This is what Governor Lynton actually said during the open BBG meeting on Friday:

MICHAEL LYNTON: “I just want go back for a moment to Governor Meehan’s comments about the Strategy session, and we decided as a Board that as a result of the Strategy session, the Board has voted to initiate a review of the recent developments in Moscow regarding RFE/RL to be led by Jeff Trimble.

The review is really to provide the lessons learned, look at the changes that are been made and provide perspective on the current and future media landscape in Russia coming out of the sessions that were held yesterday. And we expect the review to take roughly six months. The Board thanks Jeff for doing this and we look forward to the recommendations he’ll make to the Board.”

One can quibble whether “review” should be translated into Russian as “inspection” – “инспекция” or “obzor,”
but Masha Gessen’s sophistry in quibbling about it and categorically denying that anything is wrong with the Russian Service under her leadership is indeed impressive. It reminds us of Soviet media reporting. Someone in Russia who commented on Masha Gessen’s post came to the same conclusion:

“Well this is simply a return to the origins. In the Soviet Union, citizens often learned about the news from the denials in the Soviet media and here probably I would have not heard anything about this “inspection” without this refutation by Gessen. Of course, a review – it is not an inspection, but we all understand the truth.”

Russian media reported that the Broadcasting Board of Governors has given RFE/RL president Steven Korn, who had ordered the mass firing of Radio Liberty journalists and hired Gessen, 45 days to leave RFE/RL.

Masha Gessen had previously denied that she had anything to do with the firing of dozens of Radio Liberty staffers and accused journalists making such suggestions of slander, which is a criminal offense in Putin’s Russia.

We think Mr. Putin would be proud of Masha Gessen and even more proud of Steven Korn.

At a panel discussion on Russia held Thursday in Washington by the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ Strategy and Budget Committee, Freedom House President David Kramer sharply criticized Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty President and CEO Steven Korn for his actions at Radio Liberty in Russia. According to sources, Kramer said that Korn had done to Radio Liberty what Putin never could have done. He also told Korn, according to sources, that his comments about the dismissed Radio Liberty journalists were insulting.

We assume that Masha Gessen participated in this panel and heard Mr. Kramer’s remarks. Some BBG members were also present when Mr. Kramer spoke those words. We’ve heard that they were very concerned, but Masha Gessen did not see it that way. Some Russians, who don’t remember Soviet times, may even wonder who is right and who is wrong.

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