BBG Watch Commentary

Russian and International Media on Radio Liberty Crisis, Jan. 12, 2013After the outgoing president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Steven Korn fired last September dozens of some of the best and most respected independent journalists in Russia and replaced them with Masha Gessen and her team of largely unknown feature magazine writers, he assured the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) that the controversy he created and the public diplomacy crisis in Russia would blow over in two weeks.

Korn and Gessen dismissed protests from famous Russian human rights and political opposition leaders like Lyudmila Alexeeva and Mikhail Gorbachev, but the controversy only intensified and attracted even more media attention, first mostly in Russia and in some of the former Soviet republics, and then in the United States.

Angel of Meat - RFERL Russian Home Page Story Illustration on Dangers of Meat Diet in UK
Image from Masha Gessen's redesigned Radio Liberty Russian website.

It also became clear that Korn and his top RFE/RL executives in Prague, Julia Ragona and Dale Cohen, mislead the BBG, the federal agency in charge of U.S. international broadcasting, with false claims that the journalists they fired, including the award-winning Internet team, did not know how to do digital media, and the new team did.

The fired journalists continued to win awards for their website and online human rights reporting even after being forced to leave Radio Liberty in Moscow.

The new team, lacking sufficient experience in news and multimedia reporting, lost more than half of site visitors after turning it into a strange mix of light news features and images of questionable taste, more fit for tabloid press than for a U.S. taxpayer supported media freedom news outlet.

Leading independent journalists in Russia, Ukraine and in other countries are refusing to collaborate with Radio Liberty, now mockingly called “Gessen Radio,” as do many human rights and democratic political leaders.

Our List of Russian and International Media Reports on the Radio Liberty Crisis, updated Jan. 12, 2013, is far from complete, but it now has 375 items since late September 2012.

In December alone, we have listed 152 media reports. There have been 44 reports in January so far despite New Year and Orthodox Christmas holiday season in Russia which runs through the early part of the month.

One of the latest significant news reports is on one of Ukraine’s most famous journalists and influential television executives Vitaly Portnikov. He welcomed the resignation of Steven Korn and said that both Korn and the new Russian Service director bear the blame for the destruction of Radio Liberty and its reputation in Russia and in other parts of the former Soviet Union.

The report first appeared on the Radio Liberty in Exile website,, which is published by the fired journalists and their colleagues who resigned in protest.

Vitalii Portnikov, Reshenie prezidenta RS/RSE ob otstavke mozhno shchest’ vozvrashcheniem korporatsii,
Novaia Svoboda/, January 12, 2013.

The story was later reported by BBGWatch

One of Ukraine’s Most Famous Journalists Welcomes Resignation of RFE/RL President, BBG Watch, January
12, 2013.

One of the latest stories on our list is John O’Sullivan’s Newsmax TV interview: John O’Sullivan: Mass Firings at Radio Liberty Help Putin; Hurt Press Freedom, Newsmax TV, January 10, 2013. John O’Sullivan, a well known British journalist and former advisor to Margaret Thatcher, was the executive editor at Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty from 2008 until 2011 and was forced out by Steve Korn who replaced him with a former marketing specialist without any journalistic experience.

See the complete PDF List with links to articles: Russian and International Media on Radio Liberty Crisis, January 12, 2013.

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