As of Wednesday morning Moscow time, the new Radio Liberty website has posted no news on its home page about President Obama’s phone conversation Tuesday with Russia’s President Putin and Obama’s planned visit to Russia.
Delays of many hours in posting important news on the website have been common since Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) president Steven Korn ordered the firing of the Internet team at the Radio Liberty Moscow bureau along with dozens of radio and video reporters, broadcasters, and other media professionals. The main source of news now is a “News Blog,” which includes blog posts on random topics that rarely correspondent to what could be described as the latest Russian and international news. The Obama-Putin phone call has not yet been covered. Some recent news blog posts refer to news from early last week. Keyword “Obama” produces a news item dated November 13 about the resignation of the CIA director.
The new Russian Service director Masha Gessen has removed the word news from the Radio Liberty Russian website domain name. Instead of svobodanews.ru the site’s main domain name is now svoboda.org.
More than 95 percent of visitors’ comments on Gessen’s video about the new website have been highly critical of the changes and of Gessen personally. The comments were removed from the site yesterday.
A regular regional user of the Radio Liberty website reported this to BBG Watch: “The number of topical features was reduced, there are many repeats. The number and quality of social, economic and political analysis has been seriously degraded. Content of news and talk programs became less critical of the Russian government. Any analysis of U.S. domestic and foreign policy is missing. I am also not able to hear or read any in-depth analysis focused on China, Asia, Middle East and the U.S. war on terror.”
Another regional frequent user of the Radio Liberty website reported: “There is no news accessible from the site as it used to be before — no list of news items with timeline. Moreover, Radio Liberty is not listed by Yandex as a news source. This is one of the major complaints by visitors who reacted to the new Radio Liberty site introduced by Gessen. Many declared that they are leaving Radio Liberty for good. On Putin-Obama see Yandex list of news providers that reported the news — over sixty, Radio Liberty is not listed among them. Also see this Russian media report: “Russian ‘Svoboda’ declares that it is not anymore a ‘news resource'”: http://www.vsesmi.ru/news/6505460/.”
Radio Liberty was the second most cited radio station in Russia after Ekho Moskvy. In one of the most recent citing index it has dropped well behind most other Russian media outlets.
Leaders of all major Russian human rights groups and democratic parties, including chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group Lyudmila Alexeeva and former President Mikhail Gorbachev, as well as a number of independent social research experts, have strongly criticized the mass firing of experienced journalists and the changes introduced by Korn and Gessen. Korn dismissed their criticism by saying that he did not expect or would be able to convince them of anything.
Steven Korn was hired by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a federal agency in charge of Radio Liberty and other U.S. government-funded broadcasters like the Voice of America and Radio and TV Marti. The BBG likewise ignored the protests from Russian human rights and democratic opposition leaders about Korn’s management of RFE/RL and Gessen’s programming changes.
Many Russian opposition leaders believe that Korn, Gessen and BBG are caving in to President Putin.
About 30 fired Radio Liberty journalists and eight more of their colleagues who resigned in protest have formed Radio Liberty in Exile and appealed to the U.S. Congress for help in saving the station’s traditional uncensored news and human rights focus.
Radio Liberty in Exile has provided BBG Watch with the list of regular programs focusing on human rights and political and economic corruption that have disappeared from both the radio and the website and have not been replaced. Members of the new team hired by Gessen, which include her friends and associates from social news magazines where she had worked before, lack substantive experience not only in political reporting but also in maintaining a multimedia website, which was set up by the fired Internet experts.
Time of Politics – Michael Sokolov
Third Sector (human rights) – Kristina Gorelik
Press Hour – Elena Rykovtseva
Watch TV (media analysis) – Anna Kachkaeva
Public Opinion – Veronika Bode
Correspondent Hour (reports more than 80 regina) – Vladimir Abarbanell
Economics News – Ivan Trefilov
Face to Face – Danila Galperovich
Culture – Marina Timasheva