Kirill Filimonov protesting at U.S. Embassy Moscow
Kirill Filimonov protesting last Tuesday at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow

The Washington Times newspaper has published an op-ed by a young Russian university student Kirill Filimonov, in which he described the sudden mass firing of Radio Liberty journalists in Moscow and the impact of the cancellation of their political and human rights programs.

“Early in the morning on Sept. 20, journalists of the online editorial team received a text message summoning them to a different office, where they were told they were no longer RFE-RL employees.

‘What is going to happen to the website?’ the journalists asked. “This is no longer any of your business,” they were told.

The next day, the same thing happened to the radio journalists. They were not even allowed to say goodbye to their longtime listeners.

Those who were not fired decided to quit in protest to show solidarity with their colleagues. Just imagine nearly all NPR or Fox News on-air personalities suddenly disappearing without a word. The difference is that in Russia, journalists not willing to follow the Kremlin line will not easily find another job in their chosen profession.”

Filimonov, a student of media and communications at Russia’s Higher School of Economics, called actions of the American management of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) “strange and unexpected.” These executives were citing a need to restructure the Russian Service because medium-wave (AM) broadcasting in Moscow was to end due to a change in Russian law. Video content on the website was going to be increased dramatically, RFE/RL executives also announced.

Radio Liberty Journalist Streaming Video from a Demonstration
Radio Liberty Journalist (who later resigned in protest) Streaming Video from a Demonstration

In his Washington Times op-ed, Filimonov pointed out, however, that this does not explain why both radio and online journalists were fired and human rights reporters dismissed. “Some former staffers and young reporters with whom I had worked as an intern were already highly experienced in streaming online video from protest actions and political trials. Surely, there would be need for such human rights and political coverage by the ‘new’ Radio Liberty,” the Russian student observed.

Filimonov had worked before as a summer intern at the Radio Liberty bureau in Moscow. He was one of the organizers of a demonstration last Tuesday at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to protest the firing of Radio Liberty journalists. Former President Mikhail Gorbachev, former Prime Minister Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, other opposition politicians and Russian human rights leaders wrote letters to the broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a federal agency which controls RFE/RL, protesting the mass firing of Radio Liberty journalists and demanding that their jobs and programs be restored.

But President Obama’s friend and contributor to his reelection campaign, Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Corporation of America and Chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, who serves and the BBG’s interim chairman, ignored the letters from Russian political and human rights leaders and at a public BBG meeting Thursday announced his support for RFE/RL President Steven Korn who ordered the mass dismissals of journalists. The RFE/RL management used security guards to prevent Radio Liberty broadcasters and web editors from returning to work and saying farewell to their radio and online audience.

Filimonov wrote that the decision of RFE-RL management to “restructure” Radio Liberty a “probably was one of the best gifts Mr. Putin could have wished for on his 60th birthday.” He concluded that sadly neither the management of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty nor the U.S. administration in Washington is interested in using their leverage to demand the same broadcasting options in Russia for Radio Liberty that Russian state-supported broadcasters like Russia Today TV enjoy in the United States.

Read more: FILIMONOV: Radio Liberty firings gut Moscow office by Kirill Filimonov, The Washington Times, Oct. 12, 2012

Kirill Filimonov Detained by Police at U.S. Embassy Moscow
Kirill Filimonov detained by police at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow during the demonstration of Radio Liberty listeners on Tuesday. He was later released.

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