European public interest journalism expert calls for Ragona and Gessen to leave, return of fired Radio Liberty staff

Zygmunt Dzieciolowski

BBG Watch Commentary
Zygmunt DzieciolowskiEuropean public interest journalism expert Zygmunt Dzieciolowski has called on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency in charge of U.S. international broadcasting, to apologize to the fired Radio Liberty Russian journalists and to offer them a chance to return.

Dzieciolowski also called for the departure of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) vice-president of content Julia Ragona and the Russian Service director Masha Gessen for causing the crisis at Radio Liberty and showing “unlikely moral blindness and political ignorance.”

In a comment for The Washington Post article about the resignation of RFE/RL president Steven Korn, Dzieciolowski wrote that American mainstream media should have paid more attention to the scandal at Radio Liberty caused by the mass firing of many of its best Russian journalists last September.

“I was really surprised to see The Washington Post and The New York Times ignoring for months Mikhail Gorbachev or Russia’s legendary human rights activists commenting on the situation at the Liberty Radio,” Dzieciolowski wrote.

“It was shocking to watch how American media ignored for months the destruction of the leading world human rights media organisation, created and developed in their own country,” he added. “This allowed the gang of three Korn-Ragona-Gessen to continue their bakhanalia. In their actions they showed unlikely moral blindness and political ignorance.”

Zygmunt Dzieciolowski’s comment for The Washington Post article Radio Liberty loses its license in Moscow, and Russians raise voices in dismay by Kathy Lally, The Washington Post, January 3, 2013:

“This is relatively good and fair article, except that it pays too much attention to stuttering of the outgoing RFE/RL president Korn.

The problem is that this article should have been published long time ago, American mainstream media should have paid some attention to this scandal when it broke out.

I was really surprised to see Washington Post and NYT ignoring for months Mikhail Gorbachev or Russia’s legendary human rights activists commenting on the situation at the Liberty Radio. This was shocking to watch how American media ignored for months the destruction of the leading world human rights media organisation, created and developed in their own country.

This allowed the gang of three Korn-Ragona-Gessen to continue their bakhanalia. In their actions they showed unlikely moral blindness and political ignorance. It will take a lot of time to repair all damage which brought their actions.

Russia needs Radio Liberty, not as an I-Pad gadget, but as an influential and respected media platform promoting democracy and human rights. It should remain slightly conservative, it needs both old wisdom and young energy. Only this way it will save its reputation and credibility.

Broadcasting Board of Governors should understand that Steve Korn’s resignation is not enough. Julia Ragona and Masha Gessen should go too and as soon as possible, no matter how much this would cost in compensation packages. Radio’s fired journalists should be offered a chance to return. BBG should apologise to them and to their Russian audience. New heads of the Russian service and of the Liberty Moscow office should be appointed soon and encouraged to work hard to bring the radio back to normal. The sooner the better.”

Zygmunt Dzieciolowski is a joint editor of openDemocracy/Russia published by openDemocracy.net, a UK-based NGO which supports public interest journalism, human rights and democracy. Dzieciolowski has covered Russia and other post Soviet republics for European media since 1989 and in 2005 published Planet Russia, a study of Russian society and politics. He is also co-author with Mumin Schakirov of the award winning documentary film “Contest” on the beauty pageant in a Russian labor camp. Mumin Shakirov, who reported for Radio Liberty on abuses of power, corruption, human rights, and the wars in Chechnya and Afghanistan, was among dozens of journalists who were suddenly and unexpectedly summoned by telephone to the Moscow office of an international law firm representing RFE/RL and fired.

A number of fired Radio Liberty journalists have published articles in English on openDemocracy.net website.

The end of ‘Liberty’ by Mumin Shakirov, openDemocracy.net, September 26, 2012.

The death of Radio Liberty by Anastasia Kirilenko, openDemocracy.net, November 5, 2012.

Talented, experienced and tested Radio Liberty’s multimedia journalists were replaced by Masha Gessen’s friends and associates who are almost completely unknown in Russia and, unlike the fired staffers, are not frequent guests on major independent media outlets. Since the mass firing of Radio Liberty employees without any protest from Gessen, and her accusations of slander against independent reporters and writers, her team has been widely criticized in the media and by human rights and opposition leaders.

Since it was founded in May 2001, openDemocracy.net has published almost 20,000 articles, analyses, podcasts, videos and exchanges by 5,000 authors. It is read weekly in almost every country of the world (openDemocracy is currently blocked in China, Iran and Vietnam) and publishes an average of 53 articles a week. Monthly readership of over 200,000 (unique hits).

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