BBG Watch Commentary

Czech Helsinki Committee criticizes treatment of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty employeesBBG Watch has learned that newly-appointed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) acting president Kevin Klose plans to announce soon personnel and policy decisions designed to address concerns raised by human rights groups, including the Czech Helsinki Committee and the Moscow Helsinki Watch group, which have sharply criticized the former RFE/RL administration.

Sources told BBG Watch that Klose will make a number of announcements in the coming weeks designed to show that he takes these issues very seriously and plans to make a break from the past practices. The announcements may present a management team to deal with a myriad of longstanding issues at RFE/RL.

According to sources, Klose will also take action to address the crisis at Radio Liberty in Russia brought about by the mass firing of the Russian Service journalists in Moscow last September. Klose had invited Lyudmila Alexeeva, Chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group and one of the fired journalists’ strongest supporters, to participate in the Radio Liberty’s 60th anniversary celebration held in Washington, DC.

The most recent appeal to Klose came from the Czech Helsinki Committee, a premier human rights organization in the Czech Republic which has been critical of personnel policies with regard to treatment of RFE/RL foreign-born employees in the Czech Republic, where the U.S. taxpayer-funded broadcaster has its headquarters.

Anna Sabatova
Anna Sabatova

Anna Sabatova, Chairperson of the Czech Helsinki Committee, appealed to Klose to end discriminatory labor policies toward its foreign employees and to settle discrimination lawsuits filed against RFE/RL by two foreign nationals in the Czech courts and in the European Court of Human Rights.

Sabatova, a former political prisoner in communist Czechoslovakia, is a recipient of the United Nations Human Rights Award. Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, and such international organizations as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have also been honored with the same UN Human Rights Award.

“According to some media reports, your appointment as RFE/RL Acting President was greeted with high expectations by the great majority of the Radio’s employees in Prague, especially by hundreds of its foreign personnel. The resignation of your predecessor, Mr. Korn, announced on December 31, 2012, they met with joy. And not only in Prague, but in Moscow too – at least by those three tens professionals unreasonably fired by Mr. Korn last September.

As you know, Moscow events triggered a broad reaction – at the Internet site of American NGO BBG Watch over five hundred media publications are listed; concerned appeals were addressed to American officials by such prominent Russian public figures as Mikhail Gorbachev and Lyudmila Alexeeva, Head of the Moscow Helsinki Group. Czech Helsinki Committee supported them in its letter to U.S. Helsinki Commission, stressing:

‘We consider deplorable RFE/RL activities in Prague and presently in Moscow to be the links of the same chain.’

Few days ago, RFE/RL has celebrated the remarkable 60th anniversary of Radio Liberty.

Dear Mr. Klose, presently, the rescue of public image of the radio station is entrusted to you, in Russia as well as in Prague. We would like to ask you for promoting the ending of the court cases with the Mrs. Karapetian and Mrs. Pelivan with the amicable settlement and the change of discriminatory labor policies damaging, in our opinion, the reputation of RFE/RL.

Czech Helsinki Committee shall be grateful for your answer.”

Kevin Klose’s predecessor, former RFE/RL president Steven Korn, rejected criticism of his personnel and programming decisions, as did some of his top deputies still working at RFE/RL. Korn insisted that his managers acted fairly and generously, and argued that after RFE/RL’s license was not renewed in Russia, there was no other choice but to shut down the radio signal and lay off employees, The Prague Post reported. But Russian human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeeva said that some of these managers do not understand Radio Liberty’s mission and should leave their posts.

Kevin Klose
Kevin Klose

Kevin Klose, a distinguished journalist and media executive who had served already as RFE/RL president in the 1990s, was appointed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to replace Steven Korn and has been in his current position for a little over a month. He was given a one-year mandate by the BBG, the federal agency in charge of U.S. International Broadcasting, to resolve the Radio Liberty crisis and to reform RFE/RL. Klose’s appointment was welcomed by current RFE/RL employees, fired journalists, and human rights and media freedom NGOs.

Klose has already made a number of symbolic gestures to repair the damage to RFE/RL’s reputation, such as meeting with the fired journalists and human rights activists in Moscow and inviting Lyudmila Alexeeva to the Radio Liberty anniversary event in Washington, but he will also make soon substantive personnel and policy announcements, sources told BBG Watch.

READ: the Czech Helsinki Committee Letter to Acting RFE/RL President Kevin Klose.

The Czech Helsinki Committee’s actions were discussed in articles by the Armenian magazine ORER (“DAYS”), published in Europe, “Czech Helsinki Committee Writes to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Acting President Kevin Klose,” and in the Croatian English-language online news platform Croatian Times, “Czech Helsinki Committee defends Croat Snjezana Pelivan.”