RFE/RL news services failed to cover Radio Liberty crisis and Steven Korn’s controversial reign

BBG Watch Commentary

CensorshipA comment left on the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) website points out that this U.S. taxpayer-funded media freedom institution all but failed to cover the Radio Liberty crisis and the controversial reign of RFE/RL president Steven Korn. The commentator also pointed out that RFE/RL is “not allowing comments on press releases connected with Steven Korn, but is allowing them on all others.”

Steven Korn’s resignation became effective today. Kevin Klose, a journalist and broadcast executive, will be the Acting President and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as of January 26.

A comment from MC in the UK was posted on the RFE/RL press release of January 17 announcing the appointment of Kevin Klose.

by: MC from: United Kingdom

January 19, 2013 23:49

On the RFE/RL website’s Press Releases page at http://www.rferl.org/info/press_releases/651.html
there are links to nine press releases. All are enabled for reader comments to be added, with two exceptions, both relating to outgoing RFE/RL CEO Steven Korn:

Sept 24th 2012: “Steve Korn on changes to RFE/RL’s Radio Svoboda”, and

Dec 31st 2012: “Steven Korn resigns as RFE/RL President”.

Why is RFE/RL not allowing comments on press releases connected with Steven Korn, but is allowing them on all others (such as this one, which also deals with RFE/RL internal matters)? Is it because there more to Mr Korn’s leaving than is alluded to in his “resignation” letter? Is it in fact true – as a number of other media outlets have reported – that Mr Korn was fired by his bosses at the Broadcasting Board of Governors due to their concerns over changes he oversaw in RL’s Russian Service and the subsequent loss of audience? The danger is that if RFE/RL appears to not be reporting honestly and openly on its own internal problems that have now been reported elsewhere (and not allowing any comments either), it undermines the trust RFE/RL’s readers & listeners will place in your reports on other matters. As a regular reader of your website I am concerned that your lack of even a single piece of journalistic coverage so far of the controversies connected with Steven Korn’s departure is a bit Pravda-like. If Mr Korn was indeed fired this is significant news, and I think you should have covered it. Perhaps you will do after 25th January.

On January 2, 2013, BBG Watch had this story: “Still in fear of Steven Korn and his deputies, RFE/RL journalists continue to ignore controversy and need for balance.”

RFE/RL English News Website, Jan. 1, 2013

RFE/RL English News Website, Jan. 1, 2013

“For the first time ever the RFE/RL newsroom has published ‘information’ that we have every reason to believe is not true.” “We have never knowingly published lies before at the orders of top management.” — RFE/RL Central Newsroom journalist

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Newsroom continued to ignore basic rules of objective journalism as it reported on the resignation of RFE/RL president Steven Korn. According to inside sources, RFE/RL Newsroom journalists were forced by unidentified higher-level managers to post a link to Korn’s resignation letter and his photo prominently on the home page of the RFE/RL English news web site without offering any balance or explaining true reasons for his imminent departure.

A source within the RFE/RL Newsroom explained that as of early January, the staff was still gripped by fear of Korn and his principal deputies, vice-president of content Julia Ragona and vice-president of administration Dale Cohen, while the Russian Service feared firings by Korn’s new service director Masha Gessen.

But even before Korn’s departure some RFE/RL journalists began to openly express their views about him to outside media.

In an open letter to Steven Korn written shortly after January 1, Andrei Babitsky, one of the most famous among Radio Liberty investigative journalists and war reporters still employed by RFE/RL, described scenes of great joy among RFE/RL employees upon hearing the news of Korn’s resignation. Babitsky told Korn, who submitted his resignation on December 31, that his attempts to modernize Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty were not successful because he instilled hatred in people who worked for him. He also told Korn to take with him those managers on whom he relied.

At that time, most RFE/RL journalists were still afraid to speak out.

But two weeks later, in a major shift suggesting open solidarity with fired Radio Liberty journalists and defiance against the current Russian Service and top managers installed by Steven Korn, a large number of Russian Service staffers in Prague signed a letter asking the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and the designated next RFE/RL president Kevin Klose that their fired colleagues and others who had resigned in protest be reinstated and allowed to carry on responsible reforms and digital expansion of programs without jeopardizing the station’s pro-media freedom and pro-human rights mission in Russia. Some currently working Russian Service journalists at the Moscow bureau of Radio Liberty, where the new service director Masha Gessen has her office, have also signed the letter, ignoring possibility of reprisals.

Russian and International Media on Radio Liberty Crisis, Jan. 24, 2013Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Central Newsroom and language services have not reported on the Babitsky letter or the letter of fired and current Radio Liberty journalists to the BBG and Kevin Klose. Russian and international media, however, had reports on both letters. BBG Watch’s latest list of such media reports has almost 450 items since mid September 2012.

Considering the reign of fear at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, internal news censorship, including self-censorship, was to be expected. But combined with firings of experienced journalists, hiring of inexperienced feature writers and introduction of fluff journalism, it nearly ruined RFE/RL’s brand and formerly splendid reputation for hard-hitting reporting.

Kevin Klose starts his job on January 26. We hope that media freedom will return to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty under the leadership of this distinguished journalist.

One Comment

  1. PermReader says:

    I`m just a permanent reader of RFE/RL and Svoboda. For many years I see the retreat of the American values of the democracy and appeasing of the authoritarian nationalist and imperial trends in the post-Soviet states.In some cases of the journalist`s interpretation of the facts i see the simple corruption (there are the facts ). I know nothing about the interior relations between the journalists and their command, but to my regret, have never heard of the condemnation of the RFE/RL political course of the appeasement by the journalists.

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