Fired Radio Liberty journalist Mikhail Sokolov has no doubts station will return to its former, now abandoned mission

BBG Watch Commentary

Mikhail Gorbachev with fired Radio Liberty journalist Mikhail Sokolov (Radio Liberty in Exile)

Mikhail Gorbachev with fired Radio Liberty journalist Mikhail Sokolov (Radio Liberty in Exile)

Fired Radio Liberty political journalist Mikhail Sokolov believes that the station will return to its former mission in Russia, but he noted that for now the U.S. taxpayer funded media freedom radio has ceased to fulfill its former role of supporting democratic values and opposing authoritarianism.

Sokolov made his comments in an interview with a popular Russian magazine Sovershenno Sekretno in connection with the 60th anniversary of Radio Liberty, which will be observed in Moscow by the station’s fired journalists and their supporters. 60 лет Радио Свобода отметит «Свобода в изгнании»

“Gathering of Friends of Radio Liberty: 60 Years in the Struggle for Human Rights” will be held on March 1, 2013, the exact anniversary date of the first Radio Liberation (later Radio Liberty) Russian broadcast. The event is being organized by a public committee formed by Radio Liberty in Exile journalists with the participation of members of the “Memorial” and the Moscow Helsinki Group human rights NGOs.

Organizers are paying for it out of their own pockets, Sovershenno Sekretno reported.

The chief editor of Sovershenno Sekretno is Lyudmila Telen, an award-winning journalist who was the head of Radio Liberty’s Russian Internet team. The team was fired with dozens of other media professionals last September by the previous American management of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)

Politicians, human rights activists, artists, intellectuals and journalists, including former reformist prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, are expected to attend. Sovershenno Sekretno reported that expected participants include other well known Russian public figures, media personalities and veterans and staff of Radio Liberty: Yuri Ryzhov, Yuri Afanasiev, Alexei Simonov, Vladimir Tolz, Ivan Tolstoy, Nikolai Svanidze, Victor Sheinis Andrei Piontkovsky, Lev Gudkov, Alexander Cherkasov, Alexander Daniel, Andrei Zubov.

The Russian magazine noted that the event has nothing to do with the official Russian Service of Radio Liberty and its director Masha Gessen. In an interview with Sovershenno Sekretno Mikhail Sokolov said:

“Our event has really nothing to do with the Russian Service, which now operates under the direction of Masha Gessen. We also do not see any activity on the part of the Moscow bureau in connection with the 60th anniversary of Radio Liberty. In this situation, the 60th anniversary of Radio Liberty could not allowed to go unnoticed in Moscow.”

Sokolov said that he would like the participants to talk not only about the history of the radio station, but most importantly about its traditions and its mission, which for decades have been associated with the spread of democratic values, human rights, anti-authoritarianism, and the formation of civil society.

“Today, unfortunately, we have to say that the Russian Service of Radio Liberty ceased to fulfill this mission. Serious social and political journalism was replaced lightweight glamorous content. All of this has led to a sharp reduction in the Radio Liberty audience – fewer number of those who continue to listen to it on shortwave, and fewer numbers of those who hear and read its materials on the Internet.”

We welcome the willingness of the new acting president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Kevin Klose to back serious journalism on Radio Liberty, Sokolov said. He warned, however, that “until now the policy of the Russian Service has been defined by those managers who are involved in its collapse.”

But Sokolov added an optimistic note: “I have no doubt that Radio Liberty will return to the mission, which it served all these years.” Therefore, the opinions of those who will celebrate in Moscow the 60th anniversary of Radio Liberty are especially important for us, said Mikhail Sokolov.

Other Russian media have also reported on the plans for the Radio Liberty anniversary event in Moscow.

Newly-appointed RFE/RL acting president Kevin Klose is believed to be supportive of the Moscow anniversary observances and is working on returning fired journalists to Radio Liberty, sources told BBG Watch.

But former Radio Liberty journalists and their supporters are becoming anxious with each passing day as the official Russian Service website continues its chaotic, unfocused coverage, which undermines the station’s brand and reputation and further alienates democratic and human rights forces in Russia, one former U.S. international broadcasting expert observed.

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