Radio Liberty-in-Exile appeals to Obama and Romney for help, former Reagan campaign official adds his support

The Radio Liberty-in-Exile group of fired journalists and those who resigned in protest against actions of the American management of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has appealed to both President Obama and the Republican candidate for president Mitt Romney to save their jobs and programs in Russia. One of the Radio Liberty-in-Exile leaders, a popular Russian journalist Mikhail Sokholov, said that this should not a partisan issue in the United States. Regardless of which candidate wins the presidential elections in the U.S., either administration should be compelled to take measures to address the incompetence of RFE/RL executives who have destroyed Radio Liberty and its reputation in Russia, Sokholov said. His opinion on the lack of professionalism of RFE/RL’s top management is shared by leaders of the Russian human rights movement and democratic politicians, although most also blame the Obama administration for appeasing the Kremlin. Sokholov has talked with U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul who was said to have expressed his concern about the mass firings and the future of Radio Liberty, sources told BBG Watch.

Dr. Richard Walicki

In a separate action, a former Reagan for President Campaign official Richard Walicki has sent a letter to Governor Romney with an appeal to help Radio Liberty journalists return to work and to support U.S. international broadcasting. Dr. Walicki served as a legislative aide in both houses of Congress and worked in the Nationalities Division of the Reagan for President Campaign. He is a graduate of Georgetown University’s Russian Area Studies Program (RASP).

In another action, more than 2500 former Radio Liberty listeners in Russia have also sent a petition to the Obama administration and Governor Romney to save the jobs of Radio Liberty journalists and their programs.

In his letter to Governor Romney, Dr. Richard Walicki noted that in the third debate, “President Obama attempted to characterize Governor Romney as a candidate who still believed in a Cold War and possessed a naïve or antiquated concept of military reality.”

Walicki wrote that while he does not agree with the President’s assessment, he believes the Governor should have used an opportunity “to demonstrate to the American public an insidious danger being perpetrated by the current Administration against Freedom of Information – specifically as it regards East-West relations.”

“As a former Communications Director for the Nationalities Division of the Reagan Campaign, I suggested that Mr. Reagan address the dangers posed to our mass communication media (Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty) while he was still a candidate. He did so in an op-ed piece published in The New York Times, but more importantly, he utilized these media once elected, as well as the Voice of America and Radio Marti, in our war of ideas with the former Soviet Union.

President Reagan was generally credited with helping to bring about the end of the Cold War. He accomplished this through action, strengthening our economic resources, securing materiel, and understanding that ideas and preserving the right to express those ideas were fundamental elements in preserving freedom globally.”

What is more disturbing, Walicki wrote to Governor Romney, is that “the Obama administration is facilitating efforts to squelch freedom of expression in the former Soviet Union.” In his letter, Walicki referred to the article from The National Review as an example of how this is currently playing out.

Silenced by Washington by Mario Corti and Ted Lipien

Walicki stressed in his letter that the struggle for the war of ideas continues at home and abroad. Under the current administration not only are we losing that war, but we are undermining efforts that were hard-won, Walicki observed.

“The broadcast services named above have remained vigilant in reporting repression against political dissenters, as well as in exposing other forms human rights violations and political corruption. Regrettably, such violations continue to this day. As long as they persist, no one should view such broadcast agencies as ‘relics of the Cold War.’”

I urge Mr. Romney to not to ignore this important issue.” Dr. Richard Walicki wrote.

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

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

Mitt Romney
Romney for President, Inc.
P.O. Box 55239
Boston, MA 02205

 

 

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

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

The letter was made available to BBG Watch by the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – www.cusib.org)

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.


Petition of Radio Liberty Listeners

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

The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen.  John Kerry

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

Mitt Romney
Romney for President, Inc.
P.O. Box 55239
Boston, MA 02205

October 8

Dear Sirs,

We have been listening to RFE/RL Russian Service (Radio Svoboda) for many
years. Now we are very concerned over its destiny. After the majority of the
Moscow bureau journalists were fired, the listeners were told that Radio
Svoboda would stop medium-wave broadcasting in Russia, a decision stipulated by
a new Russian law. This is why we are addressing to you in a hope that something
could be done to change the terrible things that happened.

Almost all Moscow bureau journalists, specializing in democracy and human rights
issues, were fired in just two days with no clear explanation. They just
disappeared, without even having a chance to say good-bye to their listeners. The
dismissal was so indecent that those who were not fired decided to quit. We still do
not know the names of those who were hired instead of the former workers. We
have no proof that Radio Svoboda will continue its independent policy.

As we were told that Radio Svoboda would now broadcast online, and the website
would be changed, we do not understand why the young and professional online
editorial team had to be fired, too. Besides, a lot of listeners live in small towns and
villages with no access to the Internet. After Radio Svoboda stops medium-wave
broadcasting, they will lose the unbiased and objective source of information,
being able to watch nothing but state-owned TV channels.

Why did not anyone think about us, the devoted listeners of RFE/RL?

People of the older generation remember how valuable Radio Svoboda’s programs
were for USSR citizens. Much has changed in Russia since then. But the current
political vector is different from the one that we had in late 1980’s and early
1990’s. The pressure on opposition and civic society in Putin’s Russia increases
every day. Repressive laws are passed, biased trials are held, independent media
close or become dependent on the Kremlin. In this context Radio Svoboda’s voice
is crucially important for us. It seems that promoting democracy, which has always
been an important part of U.S. policy toward Russia and U.S. public policy in
general, is no longer important for the American administration. Our
disappointment is immense.

We demand that a compromise with Russian authorities be found so that Radio
Svoboda continues medium-wave broadcasting. We demand that the fired
journalists be hired back. Probably the journalists, who quit Radio Svoboda to
show solidarity with their colleagues, will then come back. Obviously these are the
necessary measures to support the rise of the civic society in Russia, which is our
only possible response to the approaching totalitarianism.

Best Regards,

Radio Svoboda listeners.

We collected mote than 1,000 signatures under this petition in just a one day! URL:
http://www.change.org/ru/петиции/остановите-уничтожение-русской-службы-радио-свобода

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