RFE/RL President Steven Korn responds to negative media coverage of mass firings at Radio Liberty in Moscow


BBG Watch Commentary

Steven Korn

President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Steven Korn has responded to a wave of negative reactions in the Russian media — including liberal outlets like Novaya Gazeta and Ekho Moskvy — to his decision to conduct a mass firing of journalists at the RFE/RL Moscow bureau. Anna Kachkaeva, one of the most prominent journalists working in the Moscow bureau of Radio Liberty (Radio Svoboda), announced that she was quitting her job on her own after 20 years (she was one of the few who were not fired) because she cannot tolerate anymore being in lockout situations, reminding her of well shaved people dressed in black standing at the door of the kitchen of the Radio Liberty the Moscow bureau and at the entrance to the building. “Нет больше ‘Свободы'” No More “Liberty” by Anna Kachkaeva (in Russian).

Anna Kachkaeva, Facebook Photo

The journalist was making a reference to the way RFE/RL employees in Moscow were treated during the sudden firing of the Internet team members and other journalists. Kachkaeva is a professor of journalism and a highly respected analyst of Russian media issues. She thanked American taxpayers for supporting authentic free radio during the last 20 years while she worked for Radio Svoboda. In April 2012, Kachkaeva, the dean of the Moscow Higher School of Economics (HSE) Media Communications School, helped to organize with the Broadcasting Board of Governors a seminar in Moscow on the role of social media in covering ethnic migration issues and her comments on the importance of social media were quoted in a BBG press release, Russian Journalists Say Да To Social Media. The Broadcasting Board of Governors,, a U.S. federal agency and its bipartisan board, have the ultimate responsibility for the way Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty are managed. Six current BBG members met recently in Washington with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who is an ex officio BBG member and with her representative at BBG meetings Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine. It is not know whether Mr. Korn’s plan for mass firing of Radio Liberty journalists in Moscow, who for many years have covered human rights issues in Russia from the hardliner coup against Gorbachev to violations of the rule of law under President Putin, was discussed with Secretary Clinton.
An anonymous RFE/RL journalist said in a Russian media interview that transforming the Moscow bureau into the core of the Radio Liberty Russian Service activities, while Prague will only have support functions, makes it easy for the Russian authorities to close the Moscow bureau as they did with USAID. While Mr. Korn insists that Radio Liberty can always be restarted from Prague, this RFE/RL journalist and many others do not think so. Many are also convinced that keeping the core of Radio Liberty operations in Moscow under a close watch of the Russian secret services, poses a serious security risk.
The journalist also said American managers sitting in Prague and Washington simply do non realize how important Radio Liberty is for Russia.
«Они, сидя в Праге и в Вашингтоне, значения радио «Свобода» не понимают» (“They sit in Prague and Washington and don’t understand the importance of Radio Liberty”
An American journalist with over 30 years of experience in reporting on Russia, gave us this comment:

“What Mr. Korn and his top advisors did at the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Moscow bureau was similar to a communist-style shake-up and shows a complete lack of understanding of the dissident culture in Russia, with which Radio Liberty was identified for many decades until recently. This culture of dignified opposition to unaccountable leaders was proudly demonstrated by the gesture of Anna Kachkaeva who resigned to show solidarity with her colleagues who were fired en mass, without warning, and in the presence of security guards as in Soviet times. The actions of the RFE/RL leadership did irreparable damage to the reputation of Radio Liberty and to America’s reputation as a model of respect for human beings and for the democratic process. Radio Liberty has now little chance of regaining trust of thoughtful opposition leaders in Russia and of ordinary Russians who are exposed to the Kremlin’s propaganda. President Putin’s hastily arranged meeting with the newly-chosen director of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service was designed, despite of, but more likely because of, Ms. Masha Gessen’s anti-Putin and feminism credentials, to further embarrass Radio Liberty and the democratic opposition. The spectacle of mass firings at the RFE/RL bureau in Moscow and public explanations from Ms. Gessen have only reinforced a view that Radio Liberty has become a hostile workplace, not much different from mafia-run businesses, and certainly no model or center of serious intellectual debate and news supporting freedom and democracy. The damage done to this once proud and noble institution by these ill-conceived and hasty actions is enormous and probably beyond repair. Mr. Korn made a mistake when he dismissed a number of senior managers with years of journalistic and area studies experience, to whom he referred as “old white guys,” and replaced them with non-journalists and non-scholars who could not give him good advice. Contrary to the official statements from the RFE/RL management, this is not at all about a transition from radio to new media, as the Internet team employees who were fired have already made Radio Liberty a powerful multimedia platform. Under Mr. Korn’s leadership, Radio Liberty has lost its soul and the support of the pro-democracy opposition leaders and ordinary Russians.”

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Communications / Press Releases
Steve Korn On Changes To RFE/RL’s Radio Svoboda
September 24, 2012
Dear Svoboda listeners and readers!
We want to assure you that despite what you may have heard or read, we are not giving up on our commitment to provide you with Svoboda’s unique perspective on news and events in Russia. But big changes are indeed under way.
Before we say anything else, we want to say thank you to the people who have worked at Radio Svoboda over the years. We are proud that at times, Radio Svoboda has served as an information lifeline not only in politics, but also in culture, social issues and religious coverage – all thanks to the brave and talented people who have worked with us. Though we have said good-bye to some of our journalists and other colleagues, we are thankful to have had the benefit of their creativity and dedication over the years and hope they will continue to contribute their voices and ideas to the public forum.
As you may have heard or read, Radio Svoboda will cease broadcasting on MW 1044 as of November 10, 2012 to be in compliance with Russian law. Although we will still be available on short waves and via satellite, our attention will now be focused on providing you with content across all digital platforms. In fact, we’re investing in the digital future so that we can better reach you on the web, on mobile devices and on apps with multimedia and interactive content. That means video, audio and text – on demand, via podcasts and, of course, live.
This change in our delivery and focus makes it imperative that we take certain steps to change how we will work. We are, however, committed to three things: acting with fairness toward those of our staff who are leaving; giving those journalists who stay and those who join us new opportunities and tools to deliver the news; and providing those who are part of our audience now – and those whom we hope will join us soon – with a new and more dynamic Svoboda that keeps the tradition of excellence and brings it to a new level. We have made every effort to ensure that this is so.
On October 1, Radio Svoboda’s new Director, Masha Gessen, will officially join us. Throughout the next several months, she will be working with the Svoboda team to bring a new energy and focus to our content while staying true to the Svoboda tradition of providing a media alternative where it is most needed. We will be introducing new programs and new ways of delivering content to you – and we will be looking for your feedback.
Again, we thank those who have made Radio Svoboda possible in the past. Please join us on our journey into the future.
Steve Korn
RFE/RL President
Дорогие слушатели и читатели Свободы!
Опубликовано 24.09.2012 15:02
Многие из вас уже слышали о том, что на Радио Свобода происходят изменения. Это действительно так. При этом мы по-прежнему верны нашей миссии, нашим ценностям и продолжаем быть независимым источником информации о России и мире.
Прежде всего, мы искренне благодарны всем, кто работал на Радио Свобода в течение многих лет. Мы гордимся тем, какое место «Свобода» занимала в политике и жизни России – благодаря талантливым и смелым сотрудникам Радио. К сожалению, нам пришлось расстаться со многими из них, но мы сердечно благодарны им за все.
Радио Свобода прекращает вещание на средних волнах на частоте 1044 кГц в Москве с 10 ноября 2012 года. Это связано с требованиями новой редакции российского закона о СМИ. Мы продолжим вещать на коротких волнах; кроме того, материалы «Свободы» будут доступны на различных цифровых платформах, в том числе и через спутник HotBird. Отныне наше будущее – вебсайт «Свободы», мы с вами в социальных сетях и на мобильных устройствах. Мы продолжим работать в различных форматах — видео, аудио и текстовом — и на различных платформах, предложим слушателям подкасты, и, конечно же, прямой эфир в интернете.
В связи с этими изменениями мы вынуждены внести некоторые коррективы в нашу дальнейшую работу. Мы руководствуемся следующими принципами: действовать справедливо по отношению к покидающим Радио коллегам; обеспечивать новые возможности для плодотворной работы тех журналистов, которые продолжают с нами сотрудничать, и тех, кто намерен к нам присоединиться; наконец, стать новой и более динамичной «Свободой», сохраняя наши лучшие традиции.
1 октября новый директор Радио Свободы, Маша Гессен, официально вступит в должность. В течение следующих месяцев команда «Свободы», возглавляемая новым директором, будет перестраивать нашу работу. Мы начинаем новый разговор с вами – и рассчитываем на отзывы.
Мы благодарим всех, кто был с нами на протяжении многих лет. Добро пожаловать на новую «Свободу»!
Стив Корн
Президент «Радио Свобода»
BBG Watch Commentary
As the Kremlin orders USAID to pull out of Russia, accusing the U.S. government agency of giving support to anti-Putin groups, and the Russian Parliament tentatively approves a new law expanding the definition of treason, the President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), also a U.S. government-funded operation, has announced his decision to select Masha Gessen, an anti-Putin journalist and gay rights activist, to be the new director of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service.
Casting security concerns aside, Steven Korn also announced that Ms. Gessen, who reportedly has a dual Russian and U.S. citizenship, will be based in Moscow rather than at the RFE/RL headquarters in Prague, the Czech Republic. He further announced that due to a new, even more restrictive Russian media law, Radio Liberty will no longer be able to broadcast on a leased medium wave (AM) frequency in Moscow, but that the Russian authorities have allowed RFE/RL to construct a larger news facility in Moscow, which will soon be opened. Even before Ms. Gessen came on board, RFE/RL has fired a large number of its employees in Moscow who presumably will be replaced. News reports have linked her to this firing, but she denies that she played a significant part in the decision. And in a strange turn of events, President Putin reportedly met with Ms. Gessen.
BBG Watch is examining these issues in a series of commentaries being published this week. In Part One we focused on Ms. Gessen’s reporting on her meeting with President Putin. In Part Two, we examined security issues surrounding Mr. Korn’s decision to expand the RFE/RL Moscow bureau and to base Radio Liberty’s Russian Service director in Russia. Alleged interviews with Gessen, designed to embarrass her in Russia and abroad — are being circulated in the blogosphere.
In later parts, we will also examine the reported management turmoil at the RFE/RL headquarters in Prague under the new management team installed by Mr. Korn and will focus on the overall strategy for Russia being implemented by Mr. Korn and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) executive team in Washington.
Read: Part One: Newly-selected director of Radio Liberty Russian Service Masha Gessen met with Putin, denies role in mass firing of RL staffers
The second analysis was written by an anonymous Russia expert who points out that the advantage belongs to President Putin, not Masha Gessen, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, or the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
Part Two: Newly-selected director of Radio Liberty Russian Service Masha Gessen will be target of KGB-style pressure campaign