BBG Recognizes Achievements of Fired Radio Liberty Journalists

BBG Recognizes Achievements of Fired Radio Liberty Journalists
BBG Watch Commentary

Former Radio Liberty journalists, Dimirti Florin, Elena Vlasenko (center) and Kristina Gorelik (with camera), who were fired by RFE/RL management or resigned in protest. They received journalism prizes for their human rights reporting.

Former Radio Liberty journalists, Dimirti Florin, Elena Vlasenko (center) and Kristina Gorelik (with camera) received journalism prizes for their human rights and new media reporting.

In a new sign of disputing actions by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) president Steven Korn, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which has authority over the U.S.-funded media freedom broadcaster, has issued a press release honoring achievements of several former Radio Liberty Russian journalists whom Korn had fired or forced to resign last September.

Those mentioned in the press release include professionals responsible for making the old Radio Liberty website one of the most cited radio news source in Russia: Lyudmila Telen, Elena Vlasenko, and Kristina Gorelik. BBG Watch applauds the BBG and members of its Board of Governors for recognizing these outstanding journalists and hopes that this is the first step to rehabilitating them and restoring their jobs and programs at Radio Liberty. The press release does not mention, however, that Telen and Gorelik had been fired by RFE/RL and that Vlasenko resigned in protest.

But there have been widespread reports, particularly in the Russian media, that the BBG had asked Korn to leave his post at RFE/RL for destroying the Russian Service Moscow bureau.

BBG Watch has learned that directors of the independent and nonpartisan NGO, the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org), were contacting BBG members and staff over Christmas urging them to recognize the awards for the fired Radio Liberty journalists with a press release.

The BBG press release honors three former Radio Liberty journalists who are among dozens of staffers who were fired or resigned in protest to show solidarity with their colleagues. Korn and his top deputies, vice president for content Julia Ragona and vice president for administration Dale Cohen who had organized the dismissals, claim that all journalists left voluntarily and were treated with great respect.

Lyudmila Telen, fired chief editor of Radio Liberty website, receives prestigious journalism award

Lyudmila Telen

But Lyudmila Alexeeva, chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and other Russian and American human rights activists, including Freedom House president David Kramer, have strongly condemned the “callous and insensitive” firing of Radio Liberty journalists and programming changes introduced by Masha Gessen. She was appointed by Korn to be the new director of the Russian Service. Kramer said that “nothing short of major change is required, meaning a complete housecleaning of the top leadership. The damage they have done is immeasurable.” The Freedom House president has called for “rehiring/rehabilitating some, if not all, of those who were laid off.”

Korn, Ragona, Cohen and Gessen have accused the fired journalists of being resistant to change and incapable of leading a digital transformation. They are making these claims despite overwhelming evidence that the fired journalists have far greater achievements in digital reporting and are far better known in Russia and more respected as media professionals than Gessen and her new team.

The new Radio Liberty and its website redesigned by Gessen are being boycotted by most independent journalists, human rights leaders, and democratic political figures opposed to the Kremlin. According to Russian media reports, which cite openly available statistics, the Radio Liberty Russian website has lost more than half of its visitors since last September.

The BBG press release reflects some of the achievements of the former Radio Liberty journalists who were fired or resigned in protest:

“The Moscow Helsinki Group recognized former RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Kristina Gorelik for her human rights reporting. Former RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Elena Vlasenko was a finalist for the Andrei Sakharov Award for Journalism as an Act of Conscience; certificates for this award were issued to finalists and the news organizations that published their work. Lyudmilla Telen received the Honor, Dignity & Professionalism award from the Russian Union of Journalists for her work, starting in the 1970s and 1980s with Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper and later with RFE/RL and Sovershenno Sekretno.”

Old Radio Liberty - Fired Internet team and its reporter Elena Vlasenko receive Andrei Sakharov human rights journalism award for online reporting.

Old Radio Liberty - Fired Internet team and its reporter Elena Vlasenko received Andrei Sakharov human rights journalism award for online reporting.

The Andrei Sakharov Award for Journalism as an Act of Conscience specifically lists the fired Radio Liberty Internet team. Gessen refused to cover the Sakharov awards on the Radio Liberty website, claiming that that they are “unfortunately low profile” in today’s Russia. Her comment was condemned by media freedom activists who accused her of helping President Putin to marginalize such human rights events by refusing to cover them on Radio Liberty.

In Russian media interviews, Gessen attacked the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting executive director Ann Noonan, accusing the head of the U.S. civil society NGO and other CUSIB directors of being publicity seekers and scandal mongers. CUSIB directors are all unpaid volunteers who contribute their own time and money. CUSIB does not solicit public or private donations. In a presentation to the BBG last week, Noonan criticized RFE/RL president Steven Korn and defended the fired Radio Liberty journalists, including fully qualified staffers with disabilities who were dismissed and later replaced with less qualified non-disabled employees. CUSIB lobbied BBG members to issue a press release on the awards and is demanding a full rehabilitation of the fired journalists and their immediate return to work at Radio Liberty.

Critics point out that while in Gessen’s news judgement the Sakharov awards were not worthy of coverage, she has kept for many days on the Radio Liberty Russian home page a story about topless bars, drugs and a professor from an American university who traveled to Argentina to be with an attractive woman he met online.

Korn and Gessen apparently believe that such stories will help Radio Liberty place content on other media outlets in Russia because they are more likely to accept them and the Kremlin’s censors less likely to prevent such placement. RFE/RL under Korn’s leadership has also produced what have been described as “pathetically smutty videos” with semi-naked women, causing an uproar in Kazakhstan, a conservative and largely Muslim nation. The videos were later removed from the RFE/RL website.

New Radio Liberty. Masha Gessen's redesigned website puts more emphasis on soft stories and sexy images.

Some RFE/RL journalists who questioned the management’s new programming strategy had their employment contracts terminated while other like web editor investigative journalist Anastasia Kirilenko resigned in protest. The latest Radio Liberty Russian Service journalist who just received news from Masha Gessen that her contract will not be renewed is Elena Polyakovskaya. She is a multimedia journalist and graduate of the famous Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography, a film school in Moscow, and speaks Russian, Ukrainian, English and French. Many of the previously fired journalists were also multimedia professionals. Some specialized in video production for the Internet. The RFE/RL management, which fired them, claims that they plan to increase the use of video on the Radio Liberty website.

The BBG press release lists currently employed RFE/RL journalists who continue to report on human rights stories despite difficult conditions:

“Journalists for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty who work under difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions received a measure of encouragement with recognition by regional and international groups. RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service correspondent Khadija Ismayilova was honored by the International Women’s Media Foundation with its Courage in Journalism Award, and Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev, a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Turkmen language service, won a Hellman/Hammett grant for his fearless reporting in Turkmenistan, one of the world’s most closed societies.

The Institute of War and Peace Reporting honored journalists from RFE/RL’s Armenian Service for their work on women’s rights issues.

The Champion of Tolerance Award from the United Nations Development Programme and the Georgian Public Defender’s Office this year went to RFE/RL’s Georgian Service.

And Radio Farda journalist Vahid Pour Ostad was highly commended by the AIB for his report Enferadi (Solitary Confinement).

The BBG press release also honors achievements of journalists at Voice of America, Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Radio Free Asia, and Office of Cuba Broadcasting.”

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Official BBG Press Release

 

BBG Journalists Worldwide Honored In 2012 For Skill, Talent And Courage

DECEMBER 27, 2012
Khadija IsmayilovaRFE/RL Azerbaijani Service correspondent Khadija Ismayilova was honored by the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Washington, DC – Journalists all around the world who work under the direction of the Broadcasting Board of Governors were recognized for their skill, talent and courage with dozens of awards from groups involved with media and the public interest in 2012.

BBG journalists received accolades from the New York Festivals, the Association for International Broadcasting (AIB), the Society of Environmental Journalists, the South East Europe Media Organization and many other organizations.

Michael Lynton, presiding governor of the board overseeing the agency, said, “The Board is proud of all the men and women who work for the BBG, sometimes at great personal risk, to bring the light of truth to the darkest corners of the world.  But we take special pride in those whose efforts are noted by recognized centers of excellence in the areas of journalism, media freedom and human rights. They alone deserve the honors, but we are delighted to share in celebrating their achievements.”

Voice of America

Innovative uses of online media garnered recognition for several Voice of America journalists.  VOA’s Jessica Beinecke, host and creator of the online English-Chinese teaching program, OMG! Meiyu received the 2012 AIB Founders Award.  Arash Sigarchi of VOA’s Persian Service received the Deutsche Welle International Blog Award, which highlights online writing that champions the open exchange of ideas and freedom of expression, for his personal blog, Window of Anguish.  And VOA’s Middle East Voices, which combines traditional reporting, commentary, and the stories of people living through the Arab Spring, was honored with the Online Journalism Award for topical reporting.

The 2012 Clarion Award for a television feature story/segment went to VOA reporter Carolyn Presutti, photographer/editor Michael Burke and photographer Mike Kornely, for their report, The Falling Man, based on one of the mostcontroversial images from the September 11th, 2001 terror attack in New York.

And Elez Biberaj, the Director of VOA’s Eurasia Division and former head of the VOA Albanian Service, received a Presidential Medal of Gratitude from Albanian President Bamir Topi.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Journalists for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty who work under difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions received a measure of encouragement with recognition by regional and international groups.  RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service correspondent Khadija Ismayilova was honored by the International Women’s Media Foundation with its Courage in Journalism Award, and Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev, a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Turkmen language service, won a Hellman/Hammett grant for his fearless reporting in Turkmenistan, one of the world’s most closed societies.

The Institute of War and Peace Reporting honored journalists from RFE/RL’s Armenian Service for their work on women’s rights issues.  The Moscow Helsinki Group recognized former RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Kristina Gorelik for her human rights reporting.   Former RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Elena Vlasenko was a finalist for the Andrei Sakharov Award for Journalism as an Act of Conscience; certificates for this award were issued to finalists and the news organizations that published their work. Lyudmilla Telen received the Honor, Dignity & Professionalism award from the Russian Union of Journalists for her work, starting in the 1970s and 1980s with Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper and later with RFE/RL and Sovershenno Sekretno.

The Champion of Tolerance Award from the United Nations Development Programme and the Georgian Public Defender’s Office this year went to RFE/RL’s Georgian Service.

And Radio Farda journalist Vahid Pour Ostad was highly commended by the AIB for his report Enferadi (Solitary Confinement).

Middle East Broadcasting Networks

The South East Europe Media Organization recognized Alhurra correspondent Bashar Fahmi and his cameraman, Cüneyt Ünal, with its 10th Annual Human Rights Award.  The two disappeared while working in Syria August 20. Ünal was later released, but there has been no official word on Fahmi’s whereabouts.  The BBG continues to call on authorities in Syria to provide information about him.

Radio Sawa was honored with gold, silver and bronze medals at the New York Festivals Radio Program & Promotion Awards®.  The broadcaster received the gold and bronze medals for its coverage of the Egyptian Revolution and a silver medal for its coverage of violence in Misratah, Libya.

Alhurra TV’s Senior Broadcast Designer, Ahamed Batcha K., received a gold award for best original logo design for Musawat (Arabic for Equality), and a silver award for best use of Arabic typography at the PromaxBDA Arabia Awards. The Pan Arab Web Awards Academy honored Radio Sawa with its Facebook Interactive Award, and Afia Darfur was highly commended at the AIB awards.

Radio Free Asia

Radio Free Asia also was recognized with multiple awards at the New York Festivals Radio Program & Promotion Awards®.  The Uyghur Service’s Shohret Hoshur received a gold medal for a story called “Hear the Children Cry Freedom,” which chronicled the hardships faced by four Uyghur youths. The Korean Service’s Jung Min Noh, Won Hee Lee, Jinseo Lee were named as finalists for their stories about North Korean refugees, families separated during the Korean War and the potential for Korean unification.

At the Hong Kong Human Rights Press Awards, RFA’s video documentary series on human trafficking, “An Invisible World – The Lives of Slaves in Modern Asia,” won first place in the online content category, and its Cantonese language service received a merit award for a story on the humiliation of a Chinese rights advocate.  The awards are sponsored by the Foreign Correspondents Club, Amnesty International, and the Hong Kong Journalists Association.   The series was also recognized as “highly commended” by the AIB.

Office of Cuba Broadcasting

TV Martí was nominated for Emmy Awards for its audio design work and for programs Estado de SATS and Hacia La Democracia.

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