BBG Watch Commentary

RFERL's Kevin Klose, May 15, 2013At the broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) open meeting in Washington, DC on May 15, 2013, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) acting president Kevin Klose discussed some of the reforms of Radio Liberty operations in Russia, including the recent resignation of Masha Gessen from the post of the Russian Service director in Moscow and the process of reconciliation with the Russian human rights community and journalists fired by RFE/RL’s previous management in Prague.

Klose said that Gessen resigned to write new books. He did not comment on her performance at Radio Liberty.

Some of the journalists fired by former RFE/RL president Steven Korn have been asked by Klose to return to Radio Liberty. They are strongly supported by Russia’s human rights community, democratic political leaders, other independent journalists and pro-democracy intellectuals. The fired journalists did not want to return to Radio Liberty as long as Masha Gessen was in charge, sources told BBG Watch.

Gessen was hired by Steven Korn in September 2012. He insists that the journalists were not fired but resigned voluntarily and were treated with great respect. But according to their accounts, they were forced to resign by RFE/RL managers from Prague and even prevented by RFE/RL security guards from saying good bye to their online and radio audiences of many years. Their firing produced a moral outrage among pro-democracy Russians. After their departure, Radio Liberty lost a significant portion of its online audience in Russia, sources told BBG Watch.

Speaking at the same BBG meeting, Governor Michael Meehan described the events in Moscow seven months ago as “decisions … that did not look good upon our organization and did not look good upon our government.”

Another BBG Governor, Ambassador Victor Ashe, who was highly critical of the previous RFE/RL management, led the effort to defend the fired journalists and to reform the organization. In a surprising move, however, the White House announced that it wants to replace Ashe on the bipartisan BBG board even though there are two other Republican vacancies that remain to be filled. There is speculation that Ashe is being replaced at the instigation of some of the officials who may have been directly or indirectly responsible for the Radio Liberty crisis and were annoyed by his criticism and demands for transparency and accountability. Ashe is seen as a hero by RFE/RL journalists and is highly respected by BBG employees and their union for his efforts to improve working conditions and employee morale. Ashe is expected to keep his BBG seat for as long as the U.S. Senate does not confirm his proposed replacement. He announced plans to visit Russia in June.

Several of RFE/RL managers responsible for the firing of Radio Liberty journalists have subsequently resigned. But International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) officials who knew about their plans for Radio Liberty did not. These officials also failed to alert the board to the developing crisis in Russia.

Kevin Klose, Meehan and another BBG member Susan McCue visited Moscow recently and met with human rights leaders, including Lyudmila Alexeeva, and some of the fired journalists. McCue is the chair of RFE/RL’s corporate board and Victor Ashe is the vice-chair.

Klose announced at the BBG meeting that he had asked Irina Lagunina, a Prague-based journalist, to be the chief editor in the Russian Service. Klose also announced at the BBG meeting that the position of the Russian Service director based in Moscow was abolished to allow for better coordination of coverage of such multi-national issues as terrorism. Klose said that coordination of such coverage would be better done from the RFE/RL headquarters in Prague.