BBG Watch Commentary

In a highly critical op-ed published in the English language Pakistani newspaper Daily Times, Peshawar based independent journalist Abdur Rauf Yousafzai decries what he and others in Pakistan see as dishonorable behavior of “Prague based policy makers” at U.S government-funded Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Some of the local RFE/RL employees of Radio Mashaal, a public service broadcaster providing an alternative to extremist propaganda in Pakistan’s remote tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan, accuse RFE/RL’s leadership in Prague of having “turned their back to Pakistani colleagues in tough psychological and financial time” after the Service’s Islamabad bureau was closed by Pakistan’s Interior Ministry in January, 2018.

The commentary in Pakistani Daily Times strongly condemns the recent closure of the Radio Mashaal bureau by the Pakistani authorities as an attack on free media. But the Pakistani journalist blames RFE/RL’s leadership in Prague for imposing on local Radio Mashaal reporters new risky contracts and forcing some of them to work secretly. Some of the local Mashaal employees have refused to sign the new RFE/RL contract and are facing difficult financial times.

“Among four terminated person two are female,” Abdur Rauf Yousafzai wrote. “In Pakhtun conservative society, women are highly discouraged to get an education and then work in this male dominant set up is impossible,” he explained.

ABDUR RAUF YOUSAFZAI: Before joining Radio Mashal, Riffat Anjum the lone bread earner of her family was working with Geo Television. She had convinced her family members with great difficulties to let her work in Islamabad away from home, but now she is jobless, abandoned, and maligned for working with (US funded) Radio Mashal. Getting US funds for [Pakistani] government is halal but for few organisations and individual it is haram [forbidden]  
Yes, of course, journalism is not properly practised in Pakistani outlets these days except by few of the media houses. Sealing Radio Mashal office would be condemnable in any of the civilized nations. Accountable, transparent and open society believes in freedom of expression for intellect growth and high moral values. But the unexpected disowning decision of Radio Mashal head office discouraged not only its reporters but also the progressive minds. The decision is strengthening notion about alleged accusations of Pakistani authority of anti-state reporting. The radio management still has time to discuss this with the authorities about resuming its transmission and reinstating its staffers and work like other foreign media.


READ MORE: Rise and fall of radio Mashal, Abdur Rauf Yousafzai, Daily Times, May 18, 2018.

Local RFE/RL reporters in Pakistan have described their situation to other journalists but do not want their names to be disclosed because some of them still work for RFE/RL and fear retaliation from the management.

RFE/RL RADIO MASHAAL REPORTERS IN PAKISTAN: Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL’s) Pashto Service (Radio Mashaal’s) Islamabad bureau was closed by the Pakistani authorities in January. Instead of trying to reopen the bureau by reaching an agreement with the government in Islamabad and addressing their concerns, RFE/RL management in Prague used the bureau’s closure to punish reporters in Pakistan. In April they offered new freelance contracts to the reporters, which denied them any protection and reduced their salaries. Further the reporters were forced to send reports secretly which has endangered their lives even more. Some journalists refused to sign the new contracts and they were fired. As this Daily Times article clearly shows, RFE/RL management failed on all levels.
For a very long time, RFE/RL management ignored the problem of finding good professional leadership for Radio Mashaal. So, its problems kept on piling, which ultimately resulted in the bureau’s closure. Even then the management kept on acting on bad advice by Mashaal’s managers. The RFE/RL’s leadership in Prague should try to find out what is really wrong with the service. Instead of punishing us poor journalists, they should look into running Mashaal as a responsible international media outlet committed to high journalistic standards. We have enough problems of our own.

Radio Mashaal’s reporters in Pakistan are not the only ones voicing criticism of the RFE/RL’s senior management in Prague. They join a growing number of young journalists, many of them women including award-winning investigative reporters Khadija Ismayilova, documentary news video producer Shahida Tulaganova from Uzbekistan, Assem Tokayeva from Kazakhstan as well as a group of other young and talented journalists – including former Vaclav Havel Fellows from various Eurasian countries – who also have criticized the current RFE/RL management, calling it authoritarian, chaotic, and out of touch with some of its best journalists. Ismayilova and Tulaganova have quit the organization in frustration and publicly expressed their disapproval of the RFE/RL management while others who were critical were pushed out by the management. Khadija Ismayilova, a former political prisoner in Azerbaijan, an investigative reporter and winner of many international journalistic awards who recently quit RFE/RL, wrote in a public Facebook post that senior executives in charge of the organization suffer from “a crisis of career stagnation“ and don’t know how to communicate with journalists.

“People do not leave good organizations,” Ismayilova wrote in a public Facebook post. “I resigned from this organization because they didn’t hesitate to fire the best journalists,” she added.

“I keep warning European politicians and institutions about how the RFE/RL’s Kazakh service known as Azattyq distorts information on what’s going on in Kazakhstan and spread[s] ideological propaganda of Kazakh authorities at the expense of US taxpayers,” former RFE/RL Kazakh Service editor Assem Tokayeva posted on her Facebook page Friday. “This week I had number of meetings in #Bundestag [German Parliament] presenting there the most outrageous examples of content deterioration and other abuses at Azattyq. I am going to publish soon more about it #stoppropaganda of #authoritarianregimes at #rferl #azattyq [RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service].”

The dishonorable treatment of reporters in Pakistan by RFE/RL’s senior management in Prague is not unique within the U.S. international media outreach agency and has been tolerated by the senior management of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in Washington despite the growing number of scandals and complaints.

The latest two Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty employee groups to complain are Radio Mashaal reporters in Pakistan and RFE/RL Afghan Service staffers in Prague and in Afghanistan. RFE/RL’s Afghan reporters told outside journalists that following the tragic deaths of three young Afghan Service correspondents in suicide attacks earlier this month and the way RFE/RL managers chose to handle this event, there has been widespread anger among the staff, not only in the Afghan Service.

RFE/RL journalists tell their friends that recent events in Afghanistan and Pakistan have sparked anger among the decent journalists who still make the backbone of this once-great organization. Many are whispering that this is the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it’s time for house cleaning – from top down. They describe it to outside journalists as the result of a years-long buildup of a culture and structure which has slowly dismantled the professional and compassionate RFE/RL of yesteryear and turned it into a heartless organization.