In June 2012, the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) management fired half of the staff of the Radio Liberty Kazakh Service in Prague (4 out of 8 journalists). These experienced journalists were replaced by young contractors, whom were evidently given the mission to attract a young online audience in Kazakhstan. Does that sound familiar?
The fired journalists, in contrast to the new employees brought in at RFE/RL Kazakh Service, specialized in radio and online reporting on human rights issues, corruption, and social issues — you know, the serious stuff that used to be RFE/RL’s traditional mission. The type of reporting that made it a beacon for those interested in those issues.
But RFE/RL President and CEO Steven Korn, not unlike this Agency’s management, decided that this type of U.S. taxpayer-funded programming could not possibly attract a young online audience. So the new contractors were asked to produce short supposedly fun videos to be posted online, on RFE/RL websites and on YouTube, for audiences in Kazakhstan, Russia and other countries.
Evidently, the young guys may have been inspired by Tom Cruise’s years-old film, “Risky Business”, because a portion of what they posted, and what can be seen at the following link on the web site BBG Watch is nothing short of a teenage boy’s dream.
Kazakhstan is a predominantly Muslim country with a strong Russian Orthodox (25%) community and someone somewhere among the editorial staff at RFE/RL should have considered that the video might be offensive to more than a few people. Interestingly enough, it seems that the population of Kazakhstan is comprised of more than teenagers because the video has provoked a bit of a firestorm over there, with members of Kazakh society denouncing it as exploitative of women, offensive to mature people and questionable material for RFE/RL and the United States.
Basically, people seem to be asking: What on Earth is the U.S. thinking?
We’ll rephrase this question: What on Earth was Mr. Korn thinking? And what on Earth is our Agency thinking? Was this some kind of commercial-style stunt to attract attention to the site? This is what happens when the mission of a government broadcaster is reduced to that of commercial broadcasters – attract as large an audience as possible.