BBG Watch Commentary
Enterprising Radio Liberty in Exile journalists have obtained an audio file of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) president Steven Korn’s dismissive remarks about Russian human rights and opposition leaders, including Lyudmila Alexeeva (Lyudmila Alexeyeva), the head of the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group. Korn made these comments to his senior staffers at the RFE/RL headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic, following his visit to Moscow where he was confronted by critics of his decision to dismiss dozens of Radio Liberty journalists in Russia and to silence their pro-human rights programs. About forty journalists who were fired or resigned in protest formed Radio Liberty in Exile to defend the station’s traditional role as a champion of free speech and human rights.
Commenting on his meeting with the Russian anti-Putin opposition leaders, Mr. Korn said: “I did not think that we would convince any of the people in the room of anything. I don’t think I could have convinced them of what day it was, if it was coming out of my mouth they were not going to believe a word of it.” Mr. Korn also cited President Obama to bolster his views by saying that his “theme, like the President’s, is forward.”
Listen to RFE/RL President Korn’s comments here RFE/RL President Steven Korn's dismissive comments about leaders of anti-Putin opposition in Russia.
Transcript posted by Radio Liberty in Exile:
“You may have heard I was in Moscow last week with Julia and some of you may have watched our event. I will say that it went probably in my estimation as well as I expected it, in fact I think it went a little better. I did not think that we would convince any of the people in the room of anything. I don’t think I could have convinced them of what day it was, if it was coming out of my mouth they were not going to believe a word of it. However, I think that they had their say. I think that the best thing that happened was their insisting that two of our former employees join the group, which they did. I think the words and attitude of those people, one in particular, speaks for itself, for themselves, and my theme, like the President’s, is forward, we’re done debating this, we’re done gnashing our teeth about it, we’re done wringing our hands, we’re done with the second guessing, we are going forward.
And I am excited about what we are going to be doing. Masha and her team are working hard and diligently on planning what the new website will look like, how they’re going to cover things, what kind of programming there will be and it will be a work in progress. We will try things that will fail and we will try things that will succeed, when they fail we’ll try something else. That should be your approach to your services as well.
I went over and saw the new space and saw what progress is being made and there is progress being made, there are people in there everyday making all kinds of noise and all kinds of clatter and constructing a new newsroom and new bureau, new studios it’s going to be great.
I will tell you that the team is coalescing, I think. The existing employees and the new employees seem to be working well together. The new employees are enthusiastic, they smile, which is nice to see, they’re creative, they’re working hard and I’m very excited about where we’re going.
So, I’m done answering questions about this. We are doing the right thing and we are moving forward. So, those of you who are not reconciled to it — too bad, those of you are indifferent to it, which you probably more or less should be if you’re not in the Russian service – good, and those of you who are supportive of it – that’s even better. But we’re going forward, so you’re either on the train or off the train and I don’t care which but we’re going forward.”
It is obvious from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty President Steven Korn’s comments that going to Moscow he had no intention to listen to Russian human rights and democratic opposition leaders. He does not seems to care what these prominent democratic Russians think. He told them to their faces that he does not agree with them. He seems not to know who they are or what they represent. He doesn’t seem to know what Radio Liberty means to them, their supporters, and ordinary Russians.
One of the representatives of the fired journalists, Mikhail Sokholov, whom Mr. Korn singled out for criticism, happens to be one of the best political reporters in Russia, the person whom Boris Yeltsin gave RFE/RL’s broadcasting license in recognition of his brave reporting during a communist coup. His criticism of Mr. Korn was powerful because Sokholov is a great journalist and broadcaster who is not afraid of Mr. Korn, Mr. Putin or anybody else. He’s the kind of journalist that Radio Liberty needs now more than ever as Putin increases his control of the media and tries to destroy the opposition.
Strange that Sokholov and others like him were fired and replaced by people almost completely unknown in Russia and without much experience in either radio, political reporting or multimedia but who are friends and associates of Mr. Korn’s new pick to lead the decimated Russian Service, Russian American journalist Masha Gessen.
Mr. Korn has further harmed these highly skilled fired Radio Liberty journalists by telling people in Washington that they were resistant to change, stuck in the 1980s (many were not even born then) and incapable of doing digital media. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have seen media reports that Sokholov already has a job offer from the popular liberal FM station Ekho Moskvy in Moscow. This last remaining influential and still somewhat independent Russian broadcaster appreciates Sokholov’s great talent, but to Mr. Korn he is nothing but an annoying reporter. Mr. Putin is another person who was easily annoyed by Sokholov and the old Radio Liberty.
Putin’s Russia needs journalists like Sokholov, and Gorelik, and Timasheva, and Abarbanell, and Kachkaeva, and Rykovtseva, and Telen, and Bode, and Trefilov, and Vlasenko, and Kirilenko, and many others who were fired or left in disgust; Radio Liberty needs them. Why were they fired? Why some of them felt they had to resign?
Mr. Korn disarmingly admitted that he did not know them and did not care to learn anything essential about them. Obviously, he is too important to be bothered by much minor details. But now that he had a chance to listen to two of them in Moscow — because the human rights and poltical leaders insisted upon it — he knows that he does not like them. They don’t smile like Ms. Gessen’s new hires.
Other than the fired journalists, human rights activists, political leaders scholars present at the meeting, whom Mr. Korn so easily dismisses with his almost mocking comments, also represent what is the best in Russia.
They spoke on behalf of all major Russian human rights organizations, while Dr. Lev Gudkov, a renowned sociologist, represented the Levada Center, an independent social research and polling institute.
And while former President Mikhail Gorbachev, former Prime Minister Kasyanov, former Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov and former Deputy Speaker of the Duma Ryzhkov did not come to the meeting with Mr. Korn, they had already sent their appeals to the BBG and the Secretary of State. Their views were reflected during the meeting in Moscow in equally strong terms by other representatives of opposition parties and groups, including the Russian United Democratic Party “Yabloko”.
The surprise and anger of Russian democratic leaders is understandable because Mr. Korn’s actions go against the entire tradition of U.S. public diplomacy and international broadcasting. Voice of America, and especially Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, have always been seen until recently as being on the side of those who are struggling for freedom and democracy, even if the White House and the State Department were sometimes making compromises with oppressive regimes. When various U.S. administrations tried to stifle critical reporting by Voice of America and Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, they never fully succeeded, especially not with RFE/RL.
Steven Korn allowed Radio Liberty to lose its medium wave (AM) broadcasting in Moscow on November 10 without a fight. But earlier he offered Mr. Putin an even greater gift by getting rid of some of the most courageous reporters who have been exposing political corruption and human rights abuses under Putin’s rule.
One of the fiercest critics of Mr. Korn during the roundtable discussion in Moscow was the legendary Russian human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeeva who had witnessed how RFE/RL executives used special guards to bar journalists from entering their news bureau in Moscow. She was at the time being interviewed by Radio Liberty’s human rights reporter Kristina Gorelik who was also fired. But because Alexeeva and Gorelik were already inside, Gorelik was able to say good bye to her radio and online audience. Her other colleagues were prevented by RFE/RL from saying farewell to their listeners and website visitors of many years. Looking directly at Mr. Korn, Alexeeva said:
“You know, even in conditions of our wild capitalism, which the whole world finds repugnant, people are not treated the way you treated the people at Radio Liberty.
I was at Radio Liberty on that day. I don’t go there too often. It was a shock for everybody and for me too.”
Watch YouTube video of Lyudmila Alexeeva comments with English subtitles.
During the roundtable in Moscow, Mr. Korn did not respond to Alexeeva, but later he told his senior staffers that people like Alexeeva could not be convinced of anything he believes in.
These comments from Mr. Korn can only be interpreted as a sign that the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a U.S. federal agency which hired him, is also dismissing the voice of the entire anti-Putin movement since the people who came to the roundtable and others who wrote letters and petitions to President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and to members of Congress represent all major Russian democratic parties and groups. The dismissal of these leaders and their concerns, while Mr. Putin tries to silence free speech and neutralize the opposition, is an example of U.S. public diplomacy at its worst.
Mr. Korn’s comments are also quite revealing of how he treats the journalists whom he has not yet fired. One of my RFE/RL contacts said that Mr. Korn should have asked himself why only Masha Gessen’s newly hired friends and associates are still smiling and those who work for him in Prague do not. His answer was that those in Prague are smart enough to know that Mr. Korn can fire them at any time.
We hear that the staff at RFE/RL in Prague is totally demoralized. But the ultimate tragedy is that Mr. Korn’s actions are destroying a great institution and damage America’s interests and image abroad. We simply can’t understand how the BBG and Secretary of State Clinton, who is an ex officio member of the BBG, can tolerate this much longer.
Russian Translation of RFE/RL President Steven Korn’s remarks as posted by Radio Liberty in Exile.
“Вы, возможно, слышали, что я был в Москве на прошлой неделе с Джулией и некоторые из вас, возможно, наблюдали за нашим мероприятием. Я скажу, что это прошло, по моей оценке, скорее, как я и ожидал, и на самом деле я думаю, что это прошло даже немного лучше. Я и не надеялся, что мы сможем бедить любого из людей в комнате хоть в чем-нибудь. Я не думаю, что я мог бы убедить их в том, какое сегодня число — если бы это прозвучало из моего рта, они не поверили бы ни единому слову. Тем не менее, я думаю, что у них было свое мнение. Я думаю, что самое лучшее, что произошло – это то, что они настояли, чтобы два наших бывших сотрудника присоединились к группе, что они и сделали. Я думаю, что слова и отношение этих людей, а особенно одного из них, говорят сами за себя, а моя темя, как президента – это двигаться вперед, мы приняли участие в дебатах, сжав зубы, мы сделали это, заламывая руки, мы сделали это с задней мысль о том, что мы идем вперед.
И я очень рад тому, что мы собираемся делать. Маша и ее команда работают старательно и прилежно над планированием того, как будет выглядеть новый сайт, как они будут освещать различные вещи, какие программы будут, и это будет постоянно продолжающейся работой. Мы постараемся сделать вещи, которые нам не удадутся, и мы постараемся сделать то, приведет к успеху, а если мы потерпим неудачу, мы попробуем что-то еще. Это должен быть и Ваш подход в ваших национальных службах.
Я был там и увидел новое помещение и увидел, какой прогресс там достигну, а там достигнут прогресс, есть люди, там каждый день производят различные виды шумов и все виды стука, работая над строительством нового ньюсрума и нового бюро, и новые студии будут великолепными.
Я вам скажу, что команда сработалась, как я думаю. Старослужащие сотрудники и новые сотрудники, кажется, хорошо работают вместе. Новые сотрудники полны энтузиазма, они улыбаются, что приятно видеть, что они творческие, они упорно трудятся, и я очень рад тому, куда мы идем.
Так вот, я ответил на вопросы по этому поводу. Мы делаем правильные вещи, и мы движемся вперед. Таким образом, те из вас, кто не смирился – очень плохо, те из вас, которые равнодушны, а вы, вероятно, должны быть более или менее равнодушными, поскольку вы не не из русской службы – хорошо, а те из вас, кто поддерживает нас – это еще лучше. Но мы идем вперед, так что вы с нами, либо вы «сойдете с поезда», меня не волнует, но мы собираемся в вперед.
Я думаю, что слова и отношение тех людей, один, в частности, говорит само за себя, для себя, и моя тема, как президента, будет вперед, мы закончили обсуждать это, мы сделали скрежет зубов об этом, мы ‘повторно сделали заламывая руки, мы закончили со второй догадки, мы идем вперед.”