BBG Watch Commentary

Mikhail Gorbachev with  Mikhail Sokolov (Radio Liberty in Exile)
Mikhail Gorbachev with Mikhail Sokolov (Radio Liberty in Exile)

The Washington Post had a AP story about the release of former president Mikhail Gorbachev’s new book, but the American-funded new Radio Liberty in Russia led by the new director Masha Gessen ignored the event, as it has failed also to report on many important news stories, including President Obama’s phone conversation with President Putin on Tuesday and the announcement of plans for Obama’s visit to Russia.

Read: Gorbachev releases new book, laments his failing health but vows to press on

Since Masha Gessen and her new team came on board after more than 30 experienced Radio Liberty journalists and web and new media specialists were fired by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty president Steven Korn in a special operation using guards and other coercive measures, Russian Radio Liberty and its website have been in a state of complete disarray, with many important news stories going unreported or being reported hours and sometimes days late.

Leaders of all major Russian human rights groups and opposition political parties have protested against the firing of the old Radio Liberty team, who now calls itself Radio Liberty in Exile, and against the cancellation of their pro-human rights radio programs and online content. After RFE/RL executives fired Radio Liberty journalists, including the Internet team, Mikhail Gorbachev issued a statement:

“Glasnost is threatened in Russia and other countries. Journalists and press are being increasingly attacked.

Glasnost helped break the resistance of conservative reactionary top bureaucracy, when its representatives attempted to turn back Russia’s development.

Today, when people openly show their will to influence the government’s policy and participate in forming their destiny, glasnost’s importance grows.

Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty’s management decision to dismiss almost all of the Russian service staff looks especially strange in this context.

In times of severe censorship Radio Svoboda (RFE/RL Russian Service) made calls for democratization and glasnost a tenor of its programmes.

It is hard to get rid of an impression that RFE/RL’s American management is prepared to make an about-turn.”

Mikhail Sokolov, a fired Radio Liberty political reporter, considered one of the best journalists in Russia, went to Mikhail Gorbachev’s book signing event in Moscow to personally thank him for his support for the old Radio Liberty and its dismissed team. Sokholov reported on the Radio Liberty in Exile Facebook Page that Gorbachev’s negative assessment of the destruction of the old Radio Liberty and the new program remains unchanged.

Obama-Putin phone conversation and Gorbachev’s new book are only some of important news stories completely ignored by Gessen’s new team or reported late.

One journalist in Prague provided BBG Watch with the following other examples:

  • Radio Liberty Russian Service missed a long list of important news events;
  • There is no regular news coverage, with standard hourly or half-hourly updates;
  • There is no list of covered news in chronological order providing the picture of the day at the home page of the Radio Liberty website;
  • Covered news events are selected at random by duty editors according to individual taste, judgment, political outlook and intellectual ability;
  • Duty editors cover randomly selected news in blogs on the Radio Liberty site in the Agenda of the Day (Повестка дня) section;
  • Individual remarks reflecting private preferences, assessments, level of understanding, intellectual outlook, etc., accompany presentation of selected news items;
  • Some news coverage is hopelessly outdated;
  • For news savvy audience Radio Liberty has rendered itself irrelevant as a news provider.

Few examples:

1. President Obama’s statement on forthcoming intensification of U.S. efforts to solve the Iranian nuclear problem, including direct negotiations with Tehran. No coverage by Radio Liberty.

2. Head of the Russian Audit Board on corruption: Yearly one quarter of the state budget is stolen within the existing system of state procurement. Leading Russian search engine Yandex lists 92 media sources which reported this sensational news and provides the timelines of their reports — starting at 15:39 Moscow Time. No coverage by Radio Liberty.

3. Recently ousted Minister of Defense got new governmental position. Yandex: 127 media outlets covered the news attesting that Vladimir Putin is not too harsh on corruption within his circle of personal friends. First reported by Interfax at 17:31 Moscow Time. Mentioned by Radio Liberty only at 23:58 Moscow Time with an announcement that it will be discussed tomorrow.

4. Putin outlines the plan of transferring highest court institutions of Russia from Moscow to Sankt Petersburg, his springboard to power. 180 media sources covered the news (Yandex). No coverage by Radio Liberty.

5. Staunchly anti-Putin Georgian Russian-language TV-broadcaster, PIK, deprived of grants by new Georgian government, requests the reinstatement of financial support. PIK cooperated with Radio Liberty in the past. RIA Novosti reported the news at 13:41 Moscow Time. No coverage by Radio Liberty.

Those events of the day covered by Radio Liberty were not presented in any kind of exclusive context that was commonly done by the old Radio Liberty team. Other media outlets covered these events in far more detailed fashion. Pretentious “Personal Touch” of news coverage espoused by the new Radio Liberty editors is irritating at best.

A complete professional disaster.

One inside source provided BBG Watch with this example of how “Radio Gessen,” as it is now called in Russia, works. One of Gessen’s deputies asked in an email to staff for volunteers to cover a protest in Moscow against Internet censorship. No one volunteered and consequently the news event was not covered by Radio Liberty.

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