BBG Watch Commentary

Michael Meehan at Nov. 15 Strategy and Budget Committee meetingBBG Watch has learned that in an unprecedented act of defiance, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) president Steven Korn has refused to comply with a request for information from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Strategy & Budget Committee, chaired by BBG Governor Michael Meehan, relating to his recent controversial decisions and activities in Russia.

At an earlier meeting in November, the committee, which has two members, Michael Meehan and Victor Ashe, had asked Korn to provide them with the cost of salary and benefits for Masha Gessen, Korn’s choice to head Radio Liberty’s Russian Service, as well as the cost of his recent trip to Moscow during which he offended leaders of major human rights groups and democratic opposition parties by publicly dismissing their concerns.

According to sources who were present at the closed part of the committee meeting on Thursday in Washington, Korn told Meehan by phone that he was not going to provide the requested information to the committee unless ordered to do so by the entire broad. Sources told BBG Watch that Meehan exchanged sharp words with Korn, but Korn continued to refuse to comply with the request for information about Gessen and his Moscow travel.

Korn also refused to tell Michael Meehan what the vice president for administration and interim legal counsel for RFE/RL, Dale Cohen, was doing that prevented him from being present to answer question from committee members by phone. Meehan had expected him to be on the call for the meeting. When he asked Korn why Dale Cohen was not available, Korn declined to tell Meehan where Cohen was.

Such an open act of defiance against a BBG committee is unprecedented among heads of broadcasting entities reporting to the board. Governor Ashe alluded to it in his remarks during the open part of the meeting. With his comments video-streamed live online, Ashe said that “the information that this committee has sought from Mr. Korn has been denied, at least delayed, and as they say in the civil rights movement, freedom delayed is freedom denied.” He added that “in terms of our responsibilities, information delayed is information denied in terms of operations of this organization.”

Ashe pointed out that Mr. Korn has united the human rights and dissident movement in Russia against him and made himself an enemy of even former president Mikhail Gorbachev.
Ashe also said that Mr. Korn has dealt in “a very callous manner” with 41 staffers he had terminated at the Radio Liberty news bureau in Moscow and has shown them no compassion and no sympathy. “This is not the way of a good manager,” Ashe said.

It will now be up to the whole board to deal with Korn’s act of defiance and a crisis at Radio Liberty in Moscow, which has lost its traditional radio and online audience and is now boycotted by Russia’s human rights and opposition leaders.

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