Award-winning Czech filmmaker to do a documentary on discrimination of RFE/RL foreign employees

BBG Watch Commentary

Anna Karapetian, journalist from Armenia fired by RFE/RL.

Anna Karapetian, a journalist from Armenia fired by RFE/RL without a right to appeal.

This report and commentary was sent to BBG Watch from Prague by one of our regular contributors.

Documentary filmmaker to search for causes of the decline of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s reputation in the Czech Republic. Interviews with RFE/RL president and Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) members requested.   
 
In a letter sent to the acting president of Radio Free Europe / Radio Europe Kevin Klose, award-winning Czech film director Martin Mahdal requested assistance and cooperation in filming a documentary on RFE/RL’s activities and its present reputation in the Czech Republic. Mahdal wrote:

“Presently, I research for the next documentary exploring the sad image transformation of RFE/RL in the Czech Republic. The Radio settled in Prague in 1995 at the pique of its glory, at the invitation of late Vaclav Havel and under your leadership.  Your kind cooperation as the person, who in February of this year has returned to Prague — this time with the mission to rescue RFE/RL’s reputation — is invaluable for the future film.”
 
With the same request for in-depth interviews, the Czech filmmaker also turned to members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), Ms. Susan McCue, the Chairperson, and Mr. Victor Ashe, the Vice Chair of RFE/RL’s Board of Directors:

“As you undoubtedly know, Czech and foreign media (print, electronic, TV, radio) harshly criticizes RFE/RL for immoral and senseless treatment of its foreign employees, particularly in connection with the ongoing lawsuits of Armenian Anna Karapetian, mother of three minors – in Czech courts, and Croatian Snjezana Pelivan – in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. Your opinion, attitude and especially your actions in Prague aimed to curtail that moral and political downfall of RFE/RL, will be reflected in our documentary. We shall be grateful for having an extensive on-camera interview with you at the RFE/RL premises.”

As previously reported, the federal agency in charge of publicly financed American non-military broadcasters, will have its next scheduled meeting on June 19, 2013 at RFE/RL’s offices in Prague and Washington, DC. Members of the bipartisan BBG board are nominated by the U.S. President and confirmed by the Senate. The Secretary of State serves on the BBG board as an ex officio member. RFE/RL’s Board of Directors is composed exclusively of BBG members.
 
Mahdal’s documentary aimed to trace roots and reasons of RFE/RL’s negative image in the Czech Republic, its host country, may have broad international viewing, including the United States:

“As we plan, the film will be shown by Czech TV and presented at the major international forums for human rights documentaries, including: The world-largest human rights film festival One World (Prague, Brussels); SILVERDOCS (Washington, DC); Human Rights Watch International Film Festival (New York, London); founded by Robert Redford Sundance Film Festival (Park City Utah); founded by Robert DeNiro Tribeca Film Festival (New York); Document-1 (Glasgow); Verzio (Budapest); Festival Du Film Et Forum International Sur LES DROITS HUMAINS (Geneva); Festival du film des droits de l’homme (Barcelona/Paris/New York), etc.”  
 
Filmmaker Martin Mahdal is a well-established international figure. For the documentary “Knights of Green Cross” he was named Chevalier of the French Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur. His 2009 TV-series “Sore Points of South Caucasus” (Azerbajdzan, Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh) were broadly screened also outside the Czech Republic. His “House for Two” received the “European” Oscar.
 
In his letter to Kevin Klose, Martin Mahdal indicates that the planned documentary on RFE/RL will include comments from “the deputies of Czech Parliament who made inquiries (interpellations) concerning the rightless status of RFE/RL foreign personnel — as reflected in Karapetian’s and Pelivan’s lawsuits.”  

A new parliamentary inquiry that, according to Mahdal, is being presently prepared, shall be filmed live at the time of floor presentation.
 
The documentary will include filmed conversation with prominent Czech senator, writer and human-rights defender Jaromir Stetina. In his published letters to American senators (John F. Kerry, then the Chairman, and  Richard G. Lugar, Ranking Member of U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations), and to the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, senator Stetina branded RFE/RL’s labor policies and actions in the Czech Republic as “patently indecent, unfair, cynical, and hypocritical.”  
 
Czech filmmaker also plans an on-camera interview with the Head of Czech Helsinki Committee Anna Sabatova, the United Nations Human Rights Prize winner. Anna Sabatova, who shares that award with Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, and such international organizations as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, wrote on March 5 to Kevin Klose personally. The Czech Helsinki Committee described RFE/RL policies and actions toward its foreign employees, particularly Anna Karapetian and Snjezana Pelivan, as “immoral,” representing “an act of fraud”. Sabatova’s letter was never answered.
 
According to RFE/RL Policy Manual, non-Czech citizens employed by RFE/RL in Prague, can be fired at any time for any reason or without reason, without preliminary warning or disciplinary measures (if deserved), and without severance compensation for the years of service unless they sign the acceptance of employment termination and give up, also in writing, the right of appeal to courts of law.
 
After they were Fired under such conditions, Karapetian and Pelivan refused to sign the abrogation of their rights requested by RFE/RL and went to courts — only to find themselves in a legal vacuum created artificially by RFE/RL. Application of Czech labor laws is precluded by their standard employment agreements. American courts are of no help to foreigners employed by American companies abroad — simply because the Congress excludes application of U.S. labor and civil laws to such foreigners. And still, despite the expressed will of Congress, RFE/RL refers in its employment agreements with foreigners to American laws as governing their employment.  
 
By now, Kevin Klose undertook some proper actions, if belated and partial, in order to correct the situation created by his predecessor, Steven Korn, in Moscow, where last September over thirty professionally qualified employees of RFE/RL‘s Moscow bureau (Radio Svoboda)  were summarily and inhumanly fired.
 
In Prague, however, no actions indicative of RFE/RL’s intention to correct the glaring injustice done to its foreign employees, former and present, are in sight.

Will the publicity which may be generated by Martin Mahdal’s planed documentary speed up any reform process at RFE/RL? Mahdal wrote to Kevin Klose:

“I am positive that you, a seasoned journalist and manager, will have what to say in our documentary – to the benefit of RFE/RL’s badly tarnished image in the Czech Republic and elsewhere, which you are assigned and empowered to rescue.”  
 
Full text of the letter:
 
 
 

Martin Mahdal

 
Mr. Kevin Klose
Interim Acting President, RFE/RL
Vinonradská 159A,
100 00 Praha 10
KloseK@rferl.org
 
Request for Cooperation and Assistance in Filming Documentary about RFE/RL
 
28 May 2013
 
Dear Mr. Klose,
 
I am Czech documentary filmmaker specializing in social, moral, labour-related, human rights, and political topics. One of my documentaries, House for Two, won the “European” Oscar for the Knights of Green Cross I received French Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur.
 
Presently, I research for the next documentary exploring the sad image transformation of RFE/RL in the Czech Republic. The Radio settled in Prague in 1995 at the pique of its glory, at the invitation of late Vaclav Havel and under your leadership.  Your kind cooperation as the person, who in February of this year has returned to Prague — this time with the mission to rescue RFE/RL’s reputation — is invaluable for the future film.
 
As we plan, the film will be shown by Czech TV and presented at the major international forums for human rights documentaries, including: The world-largest human rights film festival One World (Prague, Brussels); SILVERDOCS (Washington, DC); Human Rights Watch International Film Festival (New York, London); founded by Robert Redford Sundance Film Festival (Park City Utah); founded by Robert DeNiro Tribeca Film Festival (New York); Document-1 (Glasgow); Verzio (Budapest); Festival Du Film Et Forum International Sur LES DROITS HUMAINS (Geneva); Festival du film des droits de l’homme (Barcelona/Paris/New York), etc.
 
As you undoubtedly know, Czech and foreign media (print, electronic, TV, radio) harshly criticizes RFE/RL for immoral and senseless treatment of its foreign employees, particularly in connection with the ongoing lawsuits of Armenian Anna Karapetian, mother of three minors – in Czech courts, and Croatian Snjezana Pelivan – in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. Your opinion, attitude and especially your actions in Prague aimed to curtail that moral and political downfall of RFE/RL, will be reflected in our documentary. We shall be grateful for having an extensive on-camera interview with you at the RFE/RL premises.
 
The BBG website informs that the Board will have its next meeting at the RFE/RL offices in Prague and Washington on June 19. In connection with RFE/RL personnel policies and actions in the Czech Republic, we are especially interested in interviewing BBG members Ms. Susan McCue, the Chairperson, and Mr. Victor Ashe, the Vice Chair of RFE/RL’s Board of Directors.
 
I will be glad to hear your suggestions of other potential candidates for the filmed interviews. Our candidates include, among others, the Head of Czech Helsinki Committee, laureate of United Nations Human Rights Prize Anna Sabatova — she wrote to you personally on March 5; Czech senator Jaromir Stetina, on whose official website are published his letters to John F. Kerry, then the Chairman, and  Richard G. Lugar, Ranking Member of U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Actions of Radio Free Europe Damage Czech Republic and the United States; and to the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, From Fame to Shame: Stop Human Rights Violations and National Discrimination of Foreign Employees at the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Incidentally, Jaromir Stetina’s life-long human rights, literary and political activities were the subject of my 2011 TV-documentary, The Senator.
 
We also plan to give time to the deputies of Czech Parliament, who made inquiries (interpellations) concerning the rightless status of RFE/RL foreign personnel — as reflected in Karapetian’s and Pelivan’s lawsuits. I am informed that new interpellation is being presently prepared. It will be filmed directly during parliamentary hearings.
 
I am positive that you, a seasoned journalist and manager, will have what to say in our documentary – to the benefit of RFE/RL’s badly tarnished image in the Czech Republic and elsewhere, which you are assigned and empowered to rescue. Please set the earliest time possible for eventual on-camera interview.
 
By way of this letter, I address Ms. McCue and Mr. Ashe with the same request.
 
Sincerely,
(signed in hard copy mailed per post to Kevin Klose)
Martin Mahdal
 
Copies:
 
Ms. Susan McCue

Mr. Victor H. Ashe
 
Mr. Michael P. Meehan

Mrs. Tara Sonenshine
 
Ms. Lynne Weil
 
Mrs. Anna Sabatova

Mr. Jaromir Stetina

 

One Comment

  1. Lev Roitman says:

    The following letter was e-mailed to Mr. Victor Ashe:
    “June 1, 2013

    Dear Mr. Ashe,

    I refer to the article, “Award-winning Czech filmmaker to do a documentary on discrimination of RFE/RL foreign employees,” published on BBG Watch site May 31 (http://www.usgbroadcasts.com/bbgwatch/2013/05/31/award-winning-czech-filmmaker-to-do-a-documentary-on-discrimination-of-rferl-foreign-employees/). It presents the letter to RFE/RL acting president Kevin Klose by internationally known Czech film director Martin Mahdal.

    His letter is preceded by introductory report and commentary, “Documentary filmmaker to search for causes of the decline of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s reputation in the Czech Republic. Interviews with RFE/RL president and Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) members requested.” Requested are in particular interviews with you and Ms. McCue — members of RFE/RL Board of Directors.

    BBG Watch informs: “This report and commentary was sent to BBG Watch from Prague by one of our regular contributors.” I am that contributor. Writing now to you, a person of reputed moral and political sensitivity, I stress the following: ostrich position taken by RFE/RL-BBG in relation to political and moral problems caused by RFE/RL deeds and its BBG-sponsored labor policies in the Czech Republic, is the worst course of (non)action possible. It is not about some scandal to come. It is the raging scandal.

    To similar scandal in Moscow, BBG reacted only after it was reported by U.S. mainstream media. Intended TV- documentary by highly respected Czech film director is planed to be presented also at the major international film festivals, including those in the United States (where Martin Mahdal definitely is not a novice). It is a guaranty of even broader scandal than that in Moscow. Eventual “Moscow type” explanations — “we did not know,” “we were not sufficiently informed” — coming from BBG, an American organization of public diplomacy financed by American taxpayer precisely for the purpose of knowing and informing, would, in this case, sound unconvincing – to put it mildly.

    This is why I urge BBG to immediately resolve by peaceful means the ongoing lawsuits of Armenian Anna Karapetian, mother of three minors, and Croatian Snjezana Pelivan. It is in the best American interests.

    The astounding fact is that Mr. Klose did not even bother to respond (not to mention — contact) to Mrs. Anna Sabatova, the Head of Czech Helsinki Committee, UN Human Rights Prize winner, former vice-ombudsmen of the Czech Republic, who on March 5, in a personal letter to him, protested the mistreatment of foreign employees at RFE/RL Prague headquarters, Mmes. Pelivan and Karapetian in particular. Incidentally, he also ignored pointed inquiries by Czech media and had been publicly criticized for that in the national broadcast by Czech Radio Plus, program “Focus on Foreigners: Not Liberty but Legal Vacuum at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.” Hardly, such an attitude is helpful for improving RFE/RL’s image in its host country.

    Prior to my retirement in 2005 as RFE/RL senior commentator, I’ve spent over thirty years with RFE/RL in New York, Munich and Prague. It is painful for me to see this historically great organization to be smeared with dirt — unfortunately, deserved — by Czech and foreign political and public figures; in Czech parliament (three indignant interpellations to date, the fourth is coming and shall be filmed directly on the floor in Martin Mahdal’s documentary); by the onslaught of multilingual media — in Russian, Czech, Croatian, English, Armenian, Slovak, etc.

    One can only wonder who is advising BBG that overseas courts are the proper venue for organization of American public diplomacy to form friendly to America foreign public opinion. If it is an advice from BBG and/or RFE/RL lawyers, the disastrous results of Karapetian’s and Pelivan’s court cases, closely monitored by international media, are for anyone to see. The BBG should not be an exception.

    Evidently, it is not the task for foreign judges to decide what is right or wrong for American RFE/RL and, by natural extension, good or bad for America’s image and reputation abroad. It is the task for BBG decisions – politically, morally, and ex officio in the field carved out for this organization by American Congress. Accordingly, it will be highly unreasonable to allow that RFE/RL’s policies of national discrimination toward its foreign employees in the Czech Republic are brought to the attention of UN Human Rights Council in Geneva — as Mmes. Pelivan and Karapetian intend according to media reports.

    Requesting on-camera interview with Mr. Klose, the Czech documentary filmmaker is especially interested to hear of his “actions in Prague aimed to curtail the moral and political downfall of RFE/RL.” Forwarding Mr. Mahdal’s letter to BBG Watch for publication, I wrote: “In Prague, however, no actions indicative of RFE/RL’s intention to correct the glaring injustice done to its foreign employees, former and present, are in sight.”

    Here I add: regrettably. And hope that BBG, even badly decimated at present, is still able to come out of its ostrich position and act as the situation dictates and Congress prescribes – responsibly to its mandate and American public. It means immediately.

    Understandably, you may share this letter with whomever you see appropriate.

    With high personal respect,
    Lev Roitman

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