This report was prepared for BBG Watch by a retired RFE/RL senior Russian Service editor.
UPDATE: After the publication of this BBG Watch report, the censored parts of the video were restored. A source in Moscow informed the author that the new management of the RFE/RL Moscow bureau tries to explain the whole debacle as a purely technical mishap (сбой). But other video experts unanimously contend that such a mishap is not possible by itself and believe the cuts were intentional.
In an almost unprecedented move for a U.S.-funded broadcaster whose mission is to fight censorship, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty censored its own-generated program material that was critical of RFE/RL president Steven Korn and his deputy Julia Ragona. RFE/RL cut and removed from its website parts of a video from a discussion about Radio Liberty’s future.
Never since the Russian Service established its Internet-site opened to comments and questions from the audience was the site flooded by such a large number of negative statements about RFE/RL’s top management. Statements and remarks were attracted by the video depicting the roundtable discussion held by RFE/RL in Moscow on October 29. The roundtable was attended by RFE/RL president Steven Korn, his vice president Julia Ragona, both arrived from Prague, and by the new, Moscow-based director of the Russian Service, Masha Gessen.
The event was intended to justify to the group of invited Russian human rights activists and democratic politician the restructuring of the Russian Service accompanied by mass firings of journalists, Internet editors, video reporters and other media professionals in its Moscow bureau that has created a media uproar in Russia because of a brutal way in which it was conducted and because it was seen as a capitulation to the Kremlin and a destruction of Radio Liberty’s reputation and traditional mission.
Prior to the roundtable, the invited guests sharply criticized the actions of RFE/RL’s executives as irreparably undermining public reputation of Radio Liberty, appealed to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and called for hearings in the U.S. Congress. At their insistence, the RFE/RL organizers of the roundtable in Moscow had to invite also two representatives of the fired Russian Service employees who picketed outside the building as Radio Liberty-in-Exile.
After the avalanche of negative comments, the video from the roundtable was first removed from the RFE/RL Russian service site for a few days; later it was re-posted HYPERLINK.
The original video was censored and subdivided into five parts. From the last part, an important portion of what had been said by Pavel Litvinov, a human rights activist, was cut, and the final statements by invited guests, Dr. Lev Gudkov, a renowned sociologist, and Sergey Kovalev, another human rights activist, were removed altogether. Approximately two minutes were cut from the final part of the video in such a way that the statement concluding the roundtable became practically nothing but the words of RFE/RL president Steven Korn .
The full original video can be seen on HYPERLINK.
Words of Pavel Litvinov that remained on video censored by RFE/RL:
“We insist that all the people that were fired should be restored and that a discussion should start again as to what should or what should not be done. I think that the situation at Radio Liberty… (RFE/RL video ends).
Continuation of the roundtable — on uncensored original video (link above).
Pavel Litvinov (censored an cut by RFE/RL):
[I think that the situation at Radio Liberty is] doomed to failure and defeat. I cannot say anything positive or negative about the new director, but we must recognize that the termination of these people was implemented in such a way that the only way to restore something at RL is to restore them and try to introduce some slow changes that should be discussed.”
Lev Gudkov (censored and cut by RFE/RL):
“Summarizing all that was said, I would say that I was not satisfied with the answers to our questions. We did not get an intelligent reply to those questions that were asked nor did we get an understanding about what is going to happen to the radio and to the team. Sorry that I took the initiative to speak for everybody, but had that impression.”
Sergei Kovalev (censored and cut by RFE/RL) :
“I am prepared to assert that the suspicion will arise among the majority of non-indifferent Russians, whether listeners of Radio Liberty or other similar radios, that these steps to reform are a blatant plot, maybe a somehow a covert plot, together with the current rulers (Gudkov comments, “exactly so”). I do not state it categorically that this plot has taken place directly, but one is tempted to formulate such a hypothesis which will be shared by the majority of your (looking at fired Radio Liberty personalities Mikhail Sokolov and Marina Timasheva) listeners.”
Russian transcript of statements censored and cut by RFE/RL.
«(РС) обречена на так сказать на фэйлерные…, на неудачу и поражение. Я не могу ничего сказать о новом директоре отрицательного или положительного, но мы должны признать, что увольнение этих людей было произведено таким образом, что единственный способ что-то восстановить на РС, это восстановить их на РС, и попытаться произвести какие-то изменения медленные с обсуждением.»
«Подытоживая всё сказанное, сказал бы, что меня не удовлетворили ответы на те вопросы, которые мы задавали. Внятного ответа на поставленные вопросы и на понимание того, что будет со станцией и с командой, мы не получили. Извините, что берусь за всех говорить, но у меня такое общее впечатление.»
« Я готов утверждать, что подавляющее большинство небезразличной российской публики- слушателей свободы и других подобных станций будет подозревать в этих шагах по реформации заведомый сговор, может быть, слегка прикрытый сговор с нынешней властью (совершенно точно- Л.Гудков ). Я абсолютно не настаиваю, что в прямой форме этот сговор состоялся, но это напрашивающаяся гипотеза, и ее будет разделять огромное число ваших верных слушателей (кивает в сторону бывших сотрудников Русской службы Михаила Соколова и Марины Тимашевой).