BBG Watch Commentary
Sources in Moscow told BBG Watch that a Russian judge took only about five minutes to rule against award-winning former Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) human rights reporter Kristina Gorelik in her complaint against the American-run media outlet. Gorelik claimed she was unfairly dismissed by RFE/RL in violation of labor laws. She is reportedly planning to appeal her case to a higher court. Kristina Gorelik is the winner of the 2012 Moscow Helsinki Group Prize for “journalistic activity aimed at promoting human rights values” through her Radio Liberty broadcasts.
This is the second time a Russian court ruled against Gorelik known and respected in pro-democracy circles in Russia for her hard-hitting human rights reporting. She was dismissed by the current management of RFE/RL’s Radio Liberty Russian Service under what her supporters believe was a false pretext of staff reductions.
Gorelik along with dozens of other Radio Liberty journalists had been fired once before (2012) by the previous RFE/RL management, but she was later rehired along with most of her fired colleagues when RFE/RL management was changed in 2013 after protests by Russian pro-democracy leaders, including former President Mikhail Gorbachev and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, an anti-Putin politician who was later assassinated.
Gorelik’s supporters among Russian human rights and pro-democracy activists with regard to her current case, including Moscow Helsinki Group chair Lyudmila Alexeeva, believe that personal animosity was a factor when Gorelik was working under the Radio Liberty (Radio Svoboda) Russian Service director Irina Lagunina. Sources told BBG Watch that Lagunina categorically denies these allegations. Lagunina reportedly told the Russian court that Gorelik’s productivity was low. Gorelik denies it and has offered an outside expert evaluation of her work, which the Russian court reportedly refused to accept.
Famous Soviet and Putin-era human rights defender Lyudmila Alexeeva has written a strong letter of support for Gorelik. The letter was addressed in June 2015 to U.S. administration officials, including members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) which oversees RFE/RL. RFE/RL is funded by U.S. taxpayers through a congressional appropriation given to the BBG.
Pro-democracy activists in Russia believe that Gorelik’s dismissal would not have happened and the spectacle of a RFE/RL labor dispute being decided in a Russian court could have been easily avoided if Radio Liberty’s Russian Service and RFE/RL itself were better managed. Some Radio Liberty Russian Service journalists are complaining privately they are unhappy with some aspects of the current management of the service. RFE/RL has not had a permanent chief executive for many months. One of its two interim executives recently left the organization. Since a few weeks ago, the BBG has new CEO John Lansing who is still familiarizing himself with the federal agency and its grantee media outlets such as RFE/RL.
Former Radio Liberty Russian Service director Mario Corti observed: “Isn’t it strange that RFE/RL management fired someone who had received the Moscow Helsinki Group Prize for Journalism for her Radio Liberty program on human rights, and that RFE/RL and Russian courts see in this case eye to eye?
Former Voice of America (VOA) acting associate director and co-founder of the independent watch dog Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) Ted Lipien said that RFE/RL management should have been more engaged and paid more attention to how Radio Liberty Russian Service is managed. “Media outlets should be able to hire and fire their staff, but it’s hard to believe that Kristina Gorelik, a highly respected, award-winning human rights reporter, would not have been a great asset to the U.S. taxpayer-funded organization in a better managed environment.” “It’s sad to see human rights leaders in Russia once again being critical of RFE/RL management at the time when Putin is clamping down on free expression and civil society. Hopefully, Mr. Lansing will soon focus on these internal RFE/RL management issues.” Lipien added. Lipien is also one of the co-founders and supporters of BBG Watch.
ALSO READ: Russian human rights leader defends dismissed Radio Liberty human rights reporter, BBG Watch, October 13, 2015