BBG Watch Commentary
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty president Steve Korn took a condescending approach toward Mikhail Sokholov, one of the best political reporters in Russia who was fired, while Masha Gessen took a similarly condescending approach toward Lyudmila Alexeeva, the famous elderly human rights leader. Julia Ragona responded in a similar manner to Dr. Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, which conducts sociological research in Russia. Sokholov, Gutkov and Alexeeva all questioned Korn’s arguments and assumptions. Lyudmila Alexeeva also spoke strongly about the brutal way in which excellent Radio Liberty journalists were fired, an event she observed first hand while she was being interviewed by Kristina Gorelik, a human rights reporter who was also fired.
Galina Mikhaleva representing the liberal Yabloko party told Korn that he has lost the audience in Russia and its respect. Even Korn said that none of the participants believes in what he says, but he added, time will tell.
Korn also said that he did not know the journalists fired, never heard of them before. He only endorsed the list prepared by the Russian Service management. Julia Ragona said that neither she nor Masha Gessen had anything to do with deciding who was going to be fired.
Marina Timasheva pointed out that the fired journalists were very much involved in digital media. She also pointed out that the first people fired were members of the Internet team. She also said that even if she and others do not achieve much, they perhaps at least saved the jobs of Russian Service journalists in Prague. BBG Watch has learned that Korn’s plans included firing 17 Russian staffers in Prague.In responding to a online question, why the journalists were so brutally dismissed, Korn said that there was a short window of opportunity and there is no good way to fire people.
Sokholov said that Korn and Ragona are deceiving everyone by saying that Radio Liberty employees left voluntarily. They were told that no matter what they do they will not be able to work and will be fired. They were told that even if they go to court, they will lose.
It’s clear we continue to have different views, Korn said at the end.
All the participants, other than those representing the RFE/RL management, said that Korn, Gessen and Ragona have not answered satisfactorily any of their questions.
Pavel Litvinov insisted that the fired journalists be given their jobs back. The Russian physicist, writer and human rights activist said that the only way to restore Radio Liberty’s reputation is to rehire the journalists who were dismissed. He also said that in any case RFE/RL executives have not replied to his questions and those of other non-RFE/RL participants..
Sergei Kovalev, a Russian human rights activist and politician and a former political prisoner, said that the majority of Radio Liberty listeners will continue to think that what Korn and Gessen did was a plot put together with the Russian authorities.
The following additional notes were sent to BBG Watch.
Sokolov: All were fired withouh any explanation. Korn and Ragona betrayed the ideals of America and American taxpayers. Korn lied. Korn was offered an FM frequency in Moscow, but he refused this. He hired Masha Gessen, a person who had even been working in a medium that was funded with Putin’s money. Radio Liberty has already lost its audience. One can tell by just looking at the current Radio Liberty website, by constant repeats of broadcasts. There is almost no original content.
Alexxeeva: All 60 years Radio Liberty was highly respected and was doing its job. Yes the country has changed, but also Radio Liberty journalists have changed accordingly. Not even wild Russian capitalists dare to fire people the way Steven Korn did. Korn talks about a new concept. I did not get it. He did not say a word about the new oustanding concept.
Gessen: Radio Liberty shoud do what others do not do. Under earlier conditions of censorship that was clear. Now, it is different. Public space has been destroyed in Russia. Now we are rebuilding a correspondents’ network in the regions. We are going to tell people about what happens in the regions. Russian have become isolationists. Russians do not want to know what happens in the world.
Litvinov: While changing you should have kept the old means of distribution. What you made is a political decision. Political decision should be made by the BBG and the U.S.Congress. Compare what Radio Liberty can do in Russia and what Russia Today TV does in USA. Nothing has been done. It was a present to Putin. Radio Liberty should spread the ideals of human rights, transparency and other Western values The journalists who were fired were excellent professionals. Yes, you can change, but you could still make your experiments while keeping the professional staff and their work.
Borshchev: There still is censorship in Russia. Information is being distorted. Even Echo of Moscow is not fully free. Radio Liberty was the only medium that worked without censorship. There is no need for the reform suggested. What we had was already very effective. An exceptional team of professionals.
A representative of the liberal Yabloko party called RFE/RL management’s decision a bureaucratic mistake. You are not listening to us. Korn says he did not start yet with his reform. Yes, he did. He fired the journalists. And thus he already discredited Radio Liberty. These journalists had depth. The audience will perceive this as a betrayal. This will not be Radio Liberty anymore. This will be altogether a different thing.
Timahseva: Thank you that we and Sokolov are here. Prague will continue. Until now it was said the the Prague staffers will also be fired. Korn said that for 60 years Radio Liberty has worked in the same way. That’s not true. We changed a lot. We introduced the Internet, video, live streaming etc. We responded to all criteria that as it was said are needed now. As for financial issues, Korn said he needs to economize. I hear this for the first time. If he had told us, we would have understood. But he himself had said that there will no be cuts in budget. He said the epicenter is Moscow now. OK, Moscow is the epicenter, and what did he do, he fired the epicenter. He says we are moving to digital technologies, we had a multimedia site with video etc., and what did he do, he fired the Internet team that had all the skills that he said are required now. Every word management says contradicts what they have said before. Kachkaeva, Fanailova, myself, Sokolov, Galperovich, Rykovtseva — all of them left the radio. Why are you rebuilding the regional correspondents network? Vladdimir Abarbabel had already built it, you fired him and destroyed his network. What was missing in it? I can mention by name the correspondents that have refused to cooperate with Radio Liberty now. Anyway thank you for keeping the people in Prague working.
Radio Liberty-in-Exile journalists, accused of being unable to do digital media, were streaming live online their protest and their later commentary on what happened during the panel. Mikhail Sokholov and Marina Timasheva, who participated in the discussion, shared their impressions in a live video.