Radio Liberty is joined by Lyudmila Alexeeva to celebrate 60 years of defending free speech

BBG Watch Commentary

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has posted videos of the Radio Liberty 60th anniversary event held Friday at the RFE/RL headquarters in Washington. The main guest was legendary Russian human rights activist and current supporter of fired Radio Liberty journalists Lyudmila Alexeeva, who has been nominated by Senator Benjamin Cardin and others for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

One of Alexeeva’s most recent human rights causes are dozens of Radio Liberty journalists who were fired last September by the previous RFE/RL management team. She has been joined in her campaign on behalf of Radio Liberty in Exile by many other prominent Russian human rights activists, democratic political leaders, artists, intellectuals, and independent journalists. They are now boycotting the official Russian Service of Radio Liberty, which is led by Masha Gessen.

The controversy, however, did not figure prominently during the discussion in Washington on Friday, apparently out of respect for Kevin Klose, the newly-appointed RFE/RL acting president who had invited Alexeeva to participate in the event. She accepted his invitation after receiving assurances that he will soon resolve the issue of the fired Radio Liberty journalists, sources told BBG Watch.

Radio Liberty in Exile held its own celebration on Friday in Moscow. According to sources, Kevin Klose had no objections to the Moscow event, while a number of members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which had selected Klose to resolve the Radio Liberty crisis, have sent congratulatory messages to the fired journalists in connection with their 60th anniversary celebration. It was attended by many prominent Russian public figures and sponsored among others by the Moscow Helsinki Group, a human rights NGO chaired by Lyudmila Alexeeva.

In a gesture of solidarity with fired Radio Liberty journalists, Alexeeva invited one of them, award-winning human rights reporter Kristina Gorelik, to accompany her to the RFE/RL office in Washington, but a family emergency forced her to return to Moscow at the last moment. Alexeeva’s last interview on Radio Liberty was recorded by Gorelik on the day she was fired without any warning. Alexeeva witnessed the dismissals first hand and immediately offered her help to the fired team.

According to our sources, with Alexeeva risking her moral authority, the question is no longer if Kevin Klose will take action to resolve the fired journalists issue and restore rigorous journalistic standards, but when and how.

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Alexeeva criticized members of the former RFE/RL management team in a discussion with them in Moscow last November. Some of these managers still hold their former positions at RFE/RL.

Her primary confrontation was with Kevin Klose’s predecessor , former RFE/RL president Steven Korn. She told Korn that he had treated Radio Liberty journalists worse than repugnant Russian capitalists treat their employees. Korn claims that all journalists resigned voluntarily and were treated with great respect by RFE/RL managers. Longtime broadcasters were prevented by the management from saying good bye to their audience and escorted out of the the RFE/RL Moscow bureau by security guards.

The new Radio Liberty Russian Service director Masha Gessen, who was appointed by Steven Korn and whom Alexeeva is boycotting, insist that she was not responsible for the firing of the journalists, which happened after her appointment was announced, but before she officially came on board. She later brought to Radio Liberty members of her current team.

LYUDMILA ALEXEEVA: “In the words of Mr. Korn, the station should not work the way it has worked for the entire last 60 years.

Although it was true to its name and it was respected because of it in this country. I can attest to it as someone who since 1977 has been freelancing for Radio Liberty.

With the exception of the last few weeks, since 1977, I have not missed a single week being on the air, regardless of what was going on in my life, because I had great respect for these words ‘Liberty,’ ‘Radio Liberty.’

And I thought we were working the right way.

You are saying that now we need to work differently because the world has changed.

Of course, and our country has changed. But Mr. Korn, we have also changed as our country has changed. And the people who have worked at Radio Liberty, they have also changed in the last 20 years.

And believe me, we understand our listeners better then you who do not speak our language.

May be you want to make Radio Liberty a beautiful station using all your strengths. I have concluded that Radio Liberty is interesting. It has its niche. It has its listeners.

When does the new programming start? November 10, I think. You already in September, in one day…

You know, even in conditions of our wild capitalism, which the whole world finds repugnant, people are not treated the way you treated the people at Radio Liberty.

I was at Radio Liberty on that day. I don’t go there too often. It was a shock for everybody and for me too.

OK, we did not work the right way. May be it’s difficult to see it from the inside. May be. You talk about this and that, about telephones. But about this glorious concept, which forms the basis of programming, I don’t know. What is this concept?

What is this concept? What’s in it? Can you explain it to me? Why did you kill the old Radio Liberty already in September?

You didn’t wait till November 10. Why did you do it? Why? So that we would hear what? How are you going to create this?

You said that you will increase the number of freelancers.

I don’t know to whom you will turn with this proposal. I don’t know if I will be among them. I work the old way since 1977. You understand?

I am obviously too old and hopeless. But who will be the new freelancers?

About what will they be required to talk that we did not talk about?

And about what will they be silent that we were not silent about?

Can you answer for me this question? And this for me more important than all the talk about the frequencies and new youthful audience.

May be it’s true that you should broadcast to a young audience. But you also have to tell something to the youth.

It would be interesting for me to know what exactly is this concept for which you kicked out everybody and brought in Masha Gessen and who knows who else.”

RFE/RL acting President Kevin Klose with Lyudmila Alexeeva and David Satter

RFE/RL acting President Kevin Klose with Lyudmila Alexeeva and David Satter

In an earlier interview on Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy with fired Radio Liberty political reporter Mikhail Sokolov, David Satter, the second panelist during the anniversary event at the RFE/RL office in Washington on Friday, said that the actions of the previous RFE/RL management resulted in “a huge loss for American public diplomacy. These decisions cannot be tolerated and accepted as a fait accompli.”

In a letter to Klose, Alexeeva asked for fired Radio Liberty Russian Service journalists to be allowed to return to their jobs of reporting on human rights abuses and political issues in Russia.

Alexeeva also wrote to Klose that the director of the Russian Service Masha Gessen and RFE/RL Vice President of Content Julia Ragona, elevated to their current positions by Klose’s predecessor Steven Korn, “do not understand the organization’s mission, and, in my opinion, should leave their posts.”

Saying that these two managers insist on “making…programming more entertainment-oriented,” Alexeeva wrote: “We are more than adequately entertained by government-owned television networks and radio stations. Human rights reportage and cogent political analysis is what we are lacking.”

The Korn management team claimed that their proposals for programming changes were necessary to attract a new audience, but the Russian Service is being boycotted in Russia by key former supporters and its website has lost a significant number of former visitors. The number of citations and links to the site in other Russian media outlets has also dropped dramatically.

RFE/RL Press Release

Radio Liberty Celebrates 60 Years Defending Free Speech

RFE/RL President Kevin Klose, flanked by Russian human rights leader Lyudmila Alekseyeva (l) and journalist and author David Satter (r) at a Washington, DC reception to mark the 60th anniversary of Radio Liberty's first broadcast to Russia on March 1, 195RFE/RL President Kevin Klose, flanked by Russian human rights leader Lyudmila Alekseyeva (l) and journalist and author David Satter (r) at a Washington, DC reception to mark the 60th anniversary of Radio Liberty’s first broadcast to Russia on March 1, 1953

March 01, 2013

“Listen! Listen! Today, a new radio station, Liberation, begins its broadcasts.”

Those words, spoken by broadcaster Sergei Dubrovsky on March 1, 1953, were the first to be transmitted by Radio Liberty, a new voice with a mission to promote “the principles of democracy” to Russian listeners behind the Iron Curtain.

Sixty years later, friends of Radio Liberty (Radio Svoboda, as it is known in Russia) gathered in Washington, Prague and Moscow to celebrate its legacy and future as one of the most respected sources of independent journalism throughout the Russian Federation and beyond.

“(Radio Liberty is) journalism which is guided by an independent, skeptical, constant iterative search for factual reality, verifiable facts, context and consideration of many points of view,” said Kevin Klose, Acting President and CEO of RFE/RL, at an event commemorating the anniversary today at the company’s Washington bureau. “That kind of journalism is a first, powerful step to allowing communities of people to share uncensored information…so they can get a very clear picture of the issues in front of them.”

The modern Radio Liberty is a multimedia, 24-hour news operation across nine time zones, broadcasting on radio, video, satellite, mobile and Internet platforms. Its extensive network of journalists can be found in Moscow, Prague and New York City, and includes freelancers throughout the Russian Federation, Europe and Israel. The service has completed its move to a new bureau in Moscow, an open and flexible workspace complete with a state-of-the-art television studio.

Recently, the Russian service enhanced its live video streams and provided unique reporting from major events, including Moscow’s “March of Millions” protest, the trial of members of the punk-collective Pussy Riot, the struggle of rights activists, and the ongoing controversy surrounding U.S.-Russian adoptions.

Lyudmila Alekseyeva, Russian human rights leader, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and stalwart Radio Liberty supporter, joined author and journalist David Satter in a “Dialogue on Liberty” discussion at the RFE/RL Washington event.

“Radio Liberty was not a station broadcasting from overseas, it was our station. And as a result of Radio Liberty, we were able to speak to our fellow citizens,” Alekseyeva said. “I’m convinced that the rapid informing of an entire huge country that there existed a human rights movement was possible because of the existence of Radio Liberty.”

        Watch video of the “Dialogue on Liberty” in Washington:
        Part 1               Part 2              Part 3

Dignitaries including Karel Schwarzenberg, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, home to RFE/RL’s headquarters, praised the work of Radio Liberty. In a letter celebrating its anniversary, Schwarzenberg wrote, “Always a reliable provider of unbiased, uncensored and balanced news…Radio Liberty has been everything that totalitarian media are not.”

In Moscow, Russian Service Director Masha Gessen met with U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who also congratulated Radio Liberty on its anniversary. Additionally, the Moscow bureau was connected via video link-up with colleagues throughout RFE/RL to toast Svoboda, and included a poignant recollection by Ruslan Gelischanow, deputy director of the Russian Service, of learning about Radio Liberty as a five-year-old in a displaced persons camp in Germany.

In the days and weeks following the launch of the 1953 Russian broadcast, Radio Liberty added programming in other languages of the Soviet Union, including Georgian, Armenian, Azeri, and the languages of Central Asia. In 1955, the radio set up transmitters in Taiwan to make its Russian-language programs available to residents in eastern parts of Siberia and along the Soviet Union’s Pacific coast.

Radio Liberty and its sister station Radio Free Europe, which broadcast to Eastern Europe, merged in 1976 under the name RFE/RL. Broadcasting to 21 countries in 28 languages, and with over 400 full-time journalists, 750 freelancers, and 19 local bureaus, RFE/RL is one of the most comprehensive multimedia news operations in the world.

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