Under Gessen, Radio Liberty ceased to be frequently cited news source in Russia

BBG Watch Commentary

Warning from fired Radio Liberty journalists, media experts, sociologists opposition politicians and human rights activists in Russia proved to be right.

After dozens of Radio Liberty star reporters had been fired last September by the previous Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) management, which then hired Masha Gessen and allowed her to change Radio Liberty’s website and programming policy, the number of visitors to the RL website took a deep dive. Also, other media in Russia stopped citing Radio Liberty news reports on their websites, as seen in these graphs from the independent Russian media research company Medialogia.

Before the firing of Radio Liberty journalists in September 2012, Radio Liberty’s citation index number was about 500 (568 in August 2012). In November 2012, two months into Masha Gessen’s tenure, it was near zero (53). Ekho Moskvy’s citation index number in November 2012 was about 1000. Ekho Moskvy is a popular semi-independent FM radio station in Moscow. Radio Liberty’s index numbers were 158 and 138 in January and February after Gessen’s patron, former RFE/RL president Steven Korn, had resigned and the new acting president Kevin Klose took over, but still far below Radio Liberty’s historical performance before Gessen came on board.

Some of the still employed members of the old Radio Liberty team, including two star reporters, have asked for her resignation, as did Lyudmila Alexeeva, a pre-eminent human rights leader and nominee for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Famous opposition politicians, including former President and Nobel Peace prize winner Mikhail Gorbachev, have signed statements and sent letters to the Obama Administration and and U.S. Congress protesting against the programming changes and the firing of Radio Liberty journalists.

Radio Liberty data is shown in yellow.

Medialogia Citation Index shows significant drop for Radio Liberty (in yellow) since the dismissals in Sept. 2012 and programming changes under the new management.

Medialogia Citation Index shows significant drop for Radio Liberty (in yellow) since the dismissals in Sept. 2012 and programming changes under the new management.

Medialogia Citation Index shows significant drop for Radio Liberty (in yellow) since the dismissals in Sept. 2012 and programming changes under the new management.

Gessen replaced much of traditional Radio Liberty hard news reporting with a focus on human rights with light features which failed to attract much interest in Russia. Last weekend there was close to nothing on the Russian Service homepage on the raids being conducted by the authorities on the offices of human rights NGOs.

Russia media is already overwhelmed with this light feature content but unable for the most part to report without fear of reprisals on corruption and other sensitive political topics. Gessen is reported to be working on television spots, which also don’t deal with any sensitive issues and show poor production values, according to those who have seen pilot programs. Such reports are not likely to attract a sizable audience or offed President Putin. The fired Radio Liberty team was already working with television, streaming live video from political trials and anti-Kremlin demonstrations.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the U.S. federal agency in charge of RFE/RL, had appointed distinguished journalist and media executive Kevin Klose to deal with the problem. He is believed to be trying to return the fired journalists to work.

While Masha Gessen and her team do not produce many news reports that other media outlets in Russia want to cite, they also do not produce much in terms of output, according to an analysis of the Radio Liberty website done by the group of fired journalists who call themselves Radio Liberty in Exile.

The vast majority of the online work is done by experienced Radio Liberty journalists who had not been fired in September, Radio Liberty in Exile news website Novaya Svoboda (New Liberty) reported. The previous RFE/RL management wanted to fire more of them but was stopped by the BBG.

According to Radio Liberty in Exile analysis, from Oct. 15, 2012 to Feb. 13, 2013, the Gessen team (13 persons) published online only 98 news reports or 9.7%. Members of the old team still employed in Moscow (also 13 persons) posted online 266 news reports or 26.9%. The old Prague team (16 persons) posted 645 news reports or 63.9%.

Source: “От Радио Свобода – к Радио Гессен: все ниже и ниже…” (From Radio Liberty – to Radio Gessen: everything lower and lower…)

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