This BBG Watch Commentary was written by an anonymous employee.
How long until the Governors at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) realize the damage that has been done by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) management and the staff at the BBG and its International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB)? It is a good question, but not the one I would posit. Instead I would ask whether the damage being done to Radio Liberty (Radio Svoboda), long considered the flagship of RFE/RL, intentional?
No one who is observing what is going on in Moscow can believe what has happened is going to improve the quality of news coming out of the Moscow Bureau, so why was it done?
If you read Anastasia Kirilenko’s blog (young Radio Liberty investigative reporter who resigned in protest a few days ago), you will see that the current focus of journalism instituted by Masha Gessen (new Russian Service director appointed by RFE/RL president Steve Korn) is to avoid controversy, and report on so called “normal” events. What is the value of these types of stories to Radio Liberty’s audience (or American taxpayers)? The answer is there is no value.
There are dozens of other news outlets already reporting on these and other similar topics. “Normal” stories are safe, noncontroversial and easy to write. They are also easy to ignore, since they have been done before. An entire website dedicated to such news will not attract new audience, it will in fact lose whatever audience is left after many respected journalists were fired last month. Why then the change?
The only answer I can come up with is that this is what the BBG/IBB actually wants. Ever since the new Board of Directors came into power in 2010, there has been heavy pressure to consolidate the various news organizations under a lone umbrella of international broadcasting.
The grand vision was to have the Voice of America (VOA), RFE/RL, Radio Free Asia (RFA), Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) and Radio and TV Marti – Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) under one central command.
Further to this, they were going to create GNN, Global News Network (or as I have heard others disdainfully call it, Generic News Network). This GNN would create news out of Washington D.C., which would then be translated and disseminated to the entire world. Thus, the audiences in Beijing, Cairo, Moscow and Havana would all receive the same stories, just in their local languages.
Think of the cost savings (I’m being ironic), which could lead to higher salaries and bonuses if the BBG/IBB could make redundant a majority of journalists around the world.
If this business model sounds familiar, it should. CNN International has been following it for years, and I do not believe it’s a coincidence that a number of former CNN staffers enjoy positions as top managers, employees, contractors and consultants within the sphere of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, also known as U.S. international broadcasting (USIB).
This brings us back to the current debacle that is RFE/RL in Moscow. It is my belief that RFE/RL president Steve Korn is acting with the blessings of Messrs. Richard Lobo, Jeff Trimble and Bruce Sherman to destroy the credibility of journalism generated by independent surrogate broadcasting entities (grantees) within the BBG.
What better way to justify going to “big picture” — internationally generated news — than to show that the news generated by these independent surrogate broadcasters did not attract a large audience?
No, I do not have any smoking gun to connect the dots of my theory, but given the evidence at hand, it appears sound.
If the above is not correct, then the only other answer I see is that Steve Korn, Julia Ragona and the rest of RFE/RL management are out of their depth and should seek the counsel of qualified individuals before Radio Liberty’s relevance is lost to history.