Dismissed Radio Liberty Moscow Journalists Sent Their Appeal to U.S. Administration, Congress, and Mitt Romney

BBG Watch Commentary

BBG Watch has learned that a committee of 35 journalists and other staffers out of about 40 Radio Liberty (Radio Svoboda) Moscow bureau employees who were fired by the management of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in a secretly-planned two-day operation, conducted with the help of an international law firm and specially-hired guards, have sent an appeal to President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton, Under Secretary of State Sonenshine, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) members, members of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, and the Republican presidential candidate Governor Mitt Romney.

Radio Liberty journalists have turned to the independent, nonpartisan Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) to present their appeal to the Administration, the Congress, and Governor Romney. CUSIB had issued earlier its own appeal to restore these human rights reporters and others to their jobs and to save Radio Liberty and its reputation from being destroyed by the RFE/RL management.

BBG Watch has learned that CUSIB members have been in contact on this issue with some members of the BBG. We have also learned that almost all BBG members participated in a special teleconference on Thursday with RFE/RL President Steve Korn who, according to our sources in Washington and Prague, assured BBG members that the Russian media is ignoring the story and the whole controversy is going to go away in a few days. Sources told us that while some BBG members were asking pointed questions, BBG Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton, who is CEO of Sony Corporation of America and Chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, come to Korn’s defense, dismissing as irrelevant questions how long the fired Radio Liberty journalists have worked for U.S. international broadcasting. BBG member Ambassador Victor Ashe, who was asking some of these questions, responded to Lynton — according to sources — that human decency required the BBG to be concerned about how these journalists were treated. According to the same sources, Steve Korn again assured BBG members that he and his executives went out of their way to treat the fired employees with great respect.

Well-informed sources also told BBG Watch that at this point it appears unlikely that the majority of BBG members will force RFE/RL President Steve Korn to rehire the journalists and restore canceled programs, including Radio Liberty’s human rights programs: “The Third Sector,” “A Man has a Right,” and “The Path of Freedom.”

Some of Radio Liberty Moscow journalists on the day of their dismissal

Some of Radio Liberty Moscow journalists on the day of their dismissal. From left to right: Ivan Tolstoy, Valdimir Abarbanell, Elena Fanailova, Veronoca Bode, Elena Rykovtseva, Elena Kolepaeva, Anreay Trukhan, Yulia Ivanchenkova. Ivan Tolstoy is based in Prague and was not affected by this round of the layoffs in Moscow.

The following press release is reposted from the CUSIB website.

The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) www.cusib.org

 

The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) Supporting journalism for media freedom and human rights

The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) has been asked by a committee of former Radio Liberty Moscow journalists and other staffers who were dismissed last month in a secretly-planned two-day action by the management of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) to forward their open letter to President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Under Secretary of State Tara Sonenshine, and members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors who manage Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The sudden dismissal of these pro-democracy and human rights journalists and the cancelation of their radio programs and online reports brought condemnation from a group of prominent Russian human rights leaders, led by Lyudmila Alexeeva, and from former President Mikhail Gorbachev. RFE/RL executives banned these longtime journalists and broadcasters from the studios and prevented them even from saying good bye to their radio listeners and website visitors who relied on these brave professionals to bring them uncensored news and opinions in Putin’s Russia. The Russian media and opposition leaders have described these actions as a further proof of the United States turning its back on the pro-democracy movement in Russia and dismissed explanations of the mass firings from the RFE/RL management as misleading and a mockery.

Elena Vlasenko (center) with Kristina Gorelik and Dimitry Florin

The letter to the U.S. Administration was drafted by a young former Radio Liberty journalist Elena Vlasenko who was not fired by the RFE/RL management but chose to resign in protest to show solidarity with her colleagues. They have also signed her letter. Ms. Vlasenko published an account of the mass firings at Radio Liberty for the Index on Censorship blog UNCUT: Iconic Radio Free Europe Moscow bureau shot by both sides.

The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting has issued its own appeal for an immediate return to work of the dismissed Radio Liberty journalists but has not yet received any response from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to whom RFE/RL management reports.

 

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500

Vice President Joe Biden
Executive Office Building
Washington, DC 20501

The Honorable
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

The Honorable
Tara Sonenshine
Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Washington, D.C. 20520

Members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)
330 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20237

 

Open Letter form Former Journalists of Radio Liberty Moscow Dismissed by Management of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)

 

Dear Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Madam Secretary Clinton, Madam Secretary Sonenshine, Members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors:

I was working  RFE/RL for three years — writing, shooting documentaries and hosting live broadcasts for its Russian website www.svobodanews.ru and making audio reports for the radio.

Throughout the three years of its existence RFE/RL Russian Service Internet team, which was fired two weeks ago, increased the number of http://www.svobodanews.ru/ visitors eight times, and the number of constant visitors – 20 times.

We were the first of non-TV media to broadcast live protest actions and controversial trials (Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Platon Lebedev, Pussy Riot) and to shoot documentaries (Krymsk flood victims, Astrakhan elections crisis, civil society leaders, etc).

RFE/RL Russian Service was the second most frequently quoted radio station after – “Ekho Moskvy,” which has an FM frequency.

After numerous talks with RFE/RL Russian Service veteran – technical director Ilya Tochkin, who is also fired but who was allowed to work till the end of the year – some of my colleagues and I couldn’t help concluding that new RFE/RL management (Mr. Steve Korn and  Ms. Julia Ragona) didn’t even set the goal of keeping radio broadcasting in Moscow and/or finding partners who could retransmit RFE/RL on AM or FM frequencies. This approach, in his view, reduces RFE/RL Russian Service audience, which consists of two big parts: the one which prefers www.svobodanews.ru website (average number of daily visitors – 100 thousand) and the one that listens to the radio (70-100 thousand daily listeners  in Moscow alone).

But RFE/RL’s Russian audience didn’t have to wait until the end of medium wave (AM) broadcasting in Moscow, scheduled to occur on November 10. The audience has already turned its back on RFE/RL after the mass firings of well reputed professionals who spent years developing and maintaining Radio Liberty’s brand and increasing its audience. Two of the dismissed employees are disabled (post stroke, cancer); two of them are single mothers with several children to support.

Mr. Korn and Ms. Ragona are saying that the dismissals were based “on the agreement of both parties.” This may be legally or technically true, but it  is  nevertheless simply at variance with facts and reality.

The truth is that RFE/RL management representatives forced the staff to sign dismissal agreements. What could these journalists do faced with blocked computers, canceled electronic passes, and prevented from accessing RFE/RL’s website publishing system? If an employee refused to take the offer to be fired, he or she would be dismissed anyway.

Such methods and style of management – bragging about a new multimedia concept and firing people who succeeded in its implementation and increased RFE/RL Russian Service web audience tenfold; dismissing all journalists, who throughout the last twenty years have become a part of RFE/RL’s brand –  all this looks like the worst kind of mismanagement and a gross violation of moral and ethical values.

That is why I resigned in protest.

The Radio Liberty editorial office, which consisted of people who spent years risking their health and lives (RFE/RL didn’t provide its staff in Moscow and in other Russian cities with medical insurance) advocating for human rights and freedom of expression, was ruined not by our antagonists but by our own top management – at the expense of American taxpayers, whose money was used not for promoting democracy but for hiring  guards to keep those doing the promoting from going on the air and posting human rights stories on the web.

Tens of professionals with irreproachable reputation, the second most popular Russian multimedia platform and the respected brand developed throughout years of hard work –  became victims of such incredible bad judgement that it brought condemnation from some of the most famous Russian human rights activists and former President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mikhail Gorbachev.

We respectfully urge you to find out what happened to this venerable American public institution in Russia and to restore what was lost before it is too late. I speak here on behalf of myself and my colleagues.

Sincerely,

Elena Vlasenko, Moscow, Russian Federation
Email: windprose@gmail.com

℅ The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org)
12726 Greenwood Dr.
Truckee, CA 96161
contact@cusib.org
415-793-1642

This letter was also signed by former RFE/RL staffers who share the author’s opinion:

Ludmila Telen – the chief editor of the Radio Liberty website and social media

Mikhail Shevelev – editor of Radio Liberty’s website

Mikhail Sokolov – on air personality, the host of the Radio Liberty political show,
President Yeltsin personally handed him the license for Radio Liberty broadcasting
in Russia in recognition of his role in live reporting during the communist coup in 1991

Dmitry Florin

Nikita Tatarsky – Radio Liberty cameraman, video editor (resigned himself)

Yuri Vasilyev – editor of Radio Liberty’s website

Tatyana Skorobogatko – editor of Radio Liberty’s website

Alexey Morgun – editor of Radio Liberty’s website

Danila Galperovich – on air personality, the host of the Radio Liberty program Face to Face

Veronika Bode – on air personality, the host of the Radio Liberty Public Opinion Program

Dmitry Nalitov – Radio Liberty sound editor

Andrey Trukhan – editor of the evening Radio Liberty political show

Yuri Timofeev – Radio Liberty web photographer

Lyubov Chizhova – Radio Liberty special correspondent

Alexey Kuznetsov – editor of Radio Liberty’s website and online content, sports expert

Artur Asafyev

Lyaylya Giniatulina

Kristina Gorelik – experienced human rights reporter, the host of the Radio Liberty
show Third Sector

Ivan Trefilov – one of the best observer of economics news in Moscow
(resigned himself)

Marina Petrushko – Radio Liberty’s specialist on Internet and social media promotion

Alexander Orlov-Sokolsky

Olga Orlova

Venera Abarbanel

Marina Staune

Alya Sanches-Lir

Vitaly Kamyshev – Radio Liberty special correspondent

Mumin Shakirov – Radio Liberty special correspondent

Daria Zharova – Radio Liberty news service

Elena  Kolupaeva – Radio Liberty sound chief editor

Elena Fanailova – poet, on air personality, the host of the show Liberty in
Clubs (resigned herself)

Marina Timasheva – one of the best expert on Russian culture, the
editor and presenter of cultural programs on Radio Liberty

Vladimir Abarbanel – the coordinator of the Radio Liberty correspondent network in Russia, editor and presenter of the Radio Liberty program about Russian regions – Correspondent Hour

CUSIB - Supporting journalism for media freedom and human rights

The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) Supporting journalism for media freedom and human rights

contact@cusib.org

Ann Noonan, co-founder and Executive Director

Tel. 646-251-6069

Ted Lipien, co-founder and Director

Tel. 415-793-1642

 

The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting is an independent, nonpartisan organization that supports free flow of uncensored news from the United States to nations with restricted and developing media.


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