Czech newspaper wonders if BBG Watch is right about imminent reforms at RFE/RL

BBG Watch Commentary

Lidove Noviny on RFERLLidove Noviny, a daily Czech newspaper, published a commentary wondering whether the new acting Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) president Kevin Klose is taking steps to end discrimination against foreign journalists working at the U.S. taxpayer-supported media freedom institution.

A Lidove Noviny commentator, Leonid Panov, wrote that BBG Watch, an American NGO, expects Kevin Klose to address concerns raised by such human rights organization as the Czech Helsinki Committee. BBG Watch reported that new personnel and policy decisions are expected at RFE/RL under the new leadership.

RFE/RL announced this week that two of its top executives, who played a key management role before the arrival of Kevin Klose, have resigned. Klose also announced the appointment of an Interim Management Council to advise him and facilitate the operations of RFE/RL.

In his article in Lidove Noviny, “New President, Old Problems,” the commentator summarized what the Czech Helsinki Committee wrote in an open letter to Kevin Klose:

“In February, you came to Prague as RFE/RL interim Acting President with the task to save moral and political reputation of the radio station. … We would like to ask you to promote the ending of the court cases brought by Mrs. Karapetian and Mrs. Pelivan with an amicable settlement and to promote the change of discriminatory labor policies damaging, in our opinion, the reputation of RFE/RL.

The case of an Armenian citizen Anna Karapetian, mother of three minor children, is presently in the Czech Supreme Court. A Croatian national, Snjezana Pelivan, has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, accusing the Czech Republic of failing to protect her rights against violations by American RFE/RL. Hundreds of foreigners employed at the RFE/RL Prague headquarters, are working in a legal vacuum. Neither American nor Czech labor laws are applicable to them. Standard employment agreements provided to them by RFE/RL, the Czech Helsinki Committee calls ‘immoral’ and representing ‘an act of fraud’.

The Lidove Noviny commentator noted that foreign media reported on the letter signed by the Czech Helsinki Committee Chairperson Anna Sabatova who is a winner of the United Nations Human Rights Award. A Zagreb daily The Croatian Times called the letter “sharply-worded.” Groog, an Armenian information portal, noted that “Radio Free Europe violates the same rights it proclaims.”

Deprived of any legal defense in the Czech Republic, RFE/RL’s foreign employees can be fired at any time without being told why, without any prior warning, without any preliminary disciplinary measures if such are called for, and even without any severance pay for years of service should they disagree with such an arbitrary treatment and refuse to give up in writing their right of appeal. It is exactly in that fashion that Anna Karapetian and Snjezana Pelivan were fired, the commentator wrote in Lidove Noviny. They were not the first or the last ones, Leonid Panov pointed out.

“In a short time, it shall become clear if that situation is going to change during the tenure of Kevin Klose, RFE/RL new president. For now, everything at RFE/RL remains the same,” the Lidove Noviny commentator concluded.

BBG Watch reported, quoting inside sources within Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees RFE/RL, that Kevin Klose is woking on resolving the issue of the second class legal status of RFE/RL foreign employees in the Czech Republic. BBG Watch also reported quoting the same sources that Klose is working on re-hiring Radio Liberty journalists who were fired by the former RFE/RL management in Russia.

Kevin Klose is a distinguished journalist and media executive who had already served as RFE/RL president in the 1990s. He was also a top executive at the National Public Radio (NPR) in the United States. The BBG appointed him to resolve the Radio Liberty crisis in Russia and to reform the management structure. He has met in Moscow with representatives of fired journalists and with human rights leaders who defend them, including Nobel Peace Prize nominee Lyudmila Alexeeva. Most of them came from the meeting convinced that Kevin Klose will put a stop to rights violations at RFE/RL and will invite fired journalists to return to Radio Liberty.

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