Letter from Prague – Questions for Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty President Steven Korn


BBG Watch Commentary – a Letter from Prague by an anonymous Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist
My nickname for Mr. Steve Korn, the President of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, is P.T. KORN-um, named after the famous American showman who coined the phrase, ”There is a sucker born every minute,” which I believe epitomizes the way President Korn thinks of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), his employees and last but not least the listeners of Radio Liberty (Svoboda). Does he think these constituencies so dim that they believe him when he makes the following dubious claims:
“The uproar over the layoffs at the Moscow Bureau are localized to Russia.”
– Recently we have seen coverage in the American press by National Public Radio (NPR), U.S. News & World Report, and The Washington Times; as well as blogs from noted sites like The Heritage Foundation and The Washington Free Beacon.
“For the past year we have tried hard to find a partner to run our newscasts.”
– Other statements by Mr. Korn speak of negotiating with a Russian businessman. Yes one businessman, not multiple businessmen. Also, there is no mention of lobbying efforts within Russia, not mention of pressure being brought to bear by the U.S Government to allow unfettered access to radio networks within Russia.
(BBG Watch – There was also no mention of any attempt by Mr. Korn to put Radio Liberty Russian broadcasts on an affiliate station in Moscow which will continue to carry Voice of America English and Russian broadcasts because the new Russian media law does not prevent foreign broadcasters from broadcasting their programs in Russia through a licensed Russian partner. There was also no mention by Mr. Korn of an offer of a powerful AM transmitter from Lithuania which in the evening and at night can cover most of European Russia.)
“The new Russian law on broadcast ownership is the reason we need to redirect our efforts to a digital strategy.”
– In fact, Radio Liberty (Svoboda) has been losing affiliates for years with no real pushback by the fine folks at the Broadcasting Board of Governors and its International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) or the U.S. Government. This more than anything is responsible for the diminished reach of Radio Liberty. It is readily apparent that this has been the plan all along, marginalize radio to the point it is almost irrelevant so the focus can move to the Internet.
“The canceling of our Broadcast License means we must move away from radio to a more interactive format to engage our target audience.”
– If the medium wave (AM) license is valid until November 10, 2012, then why layoff forty staff members on September 20. Based on the current state of programming on those airwaves, the expertise is surely needed.
– As far as I can tell, many of those young, urban Muscovites that make up the new target audience of Radio Liberty are already streaming music, sports and news over their mobile phones in real time, podcasts are available but not as interesting for them. So why then fire the creators of real time content, before fully testing the potential audience for streaming Radio Liberty. Smartphone apps for these are still not fully developed for our audience, and other phones and portable music players are limited to FM signals, so Radio Liberty programming was not available up to now.
“Masha Gessen had nothing to do with the layoffs at Radio Liberty.”
– Are we supposed to ignore the fact that Masha Gessen was a consultant for Radio Liberty for months before being named the director; ignore the fact that the firings took place the one week before she began her tenure at Radio Liberty; and ignore the fact that within two weeks of her starting her job that Mr. Korn told the Board of Directors that Radio Liberty was fully staffed with the addition of twelve new employees. Are we to believe that Masha Gessen did not pre-arrange these hires?
I could go on and on with other untruths uttered by Mr. Korn, but I am sure the point is now made.
Further to this, I have heard Mr. Korn claims that he will be heading to Moscow to address his critics, which based on his track record, I find hard to believe. But if he actually for once is true his word, I ask that he provide the answers to the following questions:

  • How long before you fired over half your staff in Moscow did you decide to give up on radio broadcasts in Russia?
  • You say that Radio Liberty is shifting its focus to a younger, urban audience. Can you explain why with a digital platform which can be accessed on-demand twenty-four hours a day, that you reduced the number of journalists generating content? Also, how did you decide that older or rural Russians do not need access to unbiased information.
  • You have said that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Inc. is not abandoning Russia, and that you will be spending the same amount of money in Russia. Can you expand upon this? You have lost 40+ individuals, and replaced them with 12, do the new employees make three times as much as the old staffers? Or is there another reason, perhaps the rent on your new offices forced the reduction? Please show us a breakdown of expenses.
  • You are moving your offices to a building closely associated with Vladimir Posner, who had appeared on CNN. Did you have any dealings with Comrade Posner when you worked at CNN? Were you involved in any way with the Goodwill games? If so, are there other people you dealt with that might benefit from your changes in Moscow?
  • Recently you said in meeting with your staff in Prague you insinuated that the fired staffers in Moscow were dead weight, and that Radio Liberty was maintaining the quality of its broadcasts with one third of the staff. Do you truly believe these long time employees did not add any value to Radio Liberty? If so, why did you wait so long to eliminate their positions? If not, why make such a hurtful statement? Was it to intimidate the remaining staff in Moscow and your other bureaus?
  • By the way, these are the same individuals you thanked in your September 24, 2012 letter to Radio Liberty listeners. In that letter you said, “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.” Why the change of opinion? Is it because your feelings were hurt in that the fired individuals did not take their severance and go away quietly? Did you inform them that their severance was a payoff to buy their silence?
  • You have accused your critics of spreading disinformation. Can you give concrete examples of such? From a journalistic perspective, there are multiple sources stating basically the same facts concerning the way the staff was fired in an atmosphere of fear and humiliation. Only you are saying otherwise, and your account in second hand. Have you considered you are the one who received disinformation?
  • Finally, will you be meeting with any of the 40+ individuals who were let go in September?

So Mr. Steven Korn, P.T. KORN-um, I have given you some questions in advance of you supposed trip to Moscow. You have ample time to come up with the answers you would like us to believe, but for a change it might be best if you put away the soft soap, and give us the truth for once. Isn’t that what Radio Liberty is about?