UK-based Russia expert Masha Karp analyzes Radio Liberty's demise

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Masha KarpMasha Karp is a trustee of Rights in Russia and a London-based freelance journalist with a special interest in relations between Russia and the West. Her articles have been published by The IndependentStandpointThe SpectatorOpen DemocracyThe Common ReviewOpen Democracy, and in Russian by Inostrannaya Literatura. Masha was Russian Features editor (1997-2009) and previously a producer (1991-1997) with the BBC Russian Service. Her programmes on cultural, political and social issues are available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/russian/indepth/radio_archives.shtml. She also produced, presented and participated in  Radio 4 and the BBC World Service radio programmes in English (including Crossing Continents, Word of Mouth, New Europe, Assignment, Pick of the World and Outlook) and in the live BBC World Television show Europe Direct. Masha is a translator of English and German poetry and prose into Russian and has published translations of many writers, including Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Dylan Thomas, W.H. Auden, Elizabeth Jennings, Alice Munro, Andreas Griffius and Nicolaus Lenau, as well as articles on translation. She is a member of the St Petersburg Writers’ Union and the Literary Translators Guild in Russia and a member of the UK Chartered Institute of Linguists. She is chair of the Pushkin Club in Britain.
Rights in Russia was established in the United Kingdom on 19 January 2010, the first anniversary of the killings in Moscow of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, as a charitable organization with the mission to provide information about human rights in Russia in the English language and to support in other appropriate ways the work of human rights organizations based in the Russian Federation. For more information visit their website here.
 

The Radiant Digital Future

 
by Masha Karp

On 10th November Radio Liberty, funded by the US Congress, stopped its Russian broadcasts on medium wave. When the plans were first announced at the end of September, more than 40 journalists – both broadcasters and the station’s internet team – were sacked without warning. A new boss soon arrived at the Moscow Office and brought her own team. There could be no doubt – Radio Liberty was changing course. Amid the outcry in Russia, letters to Washington, and protest rallies at the US Embassy in Moscow, Radio Liberty’s American managers organized a meeting with Russian human rights activists who were appalled by the changes. The conversation was recorded and made available to the public. Masha Karp has watched the video

Highlights of the article:

“On the other side are people of an entirely different calibre. This becomes obvious at the very start when some of them stop at the entrance to the room and request that at least two representatives of the sacked Radio Liberty journalists be allowed in. The way they ask without entering the room obviously tells Korn something and, understandably keen to avoid any clashes, he immediately asks that two more chairs be brought. Only then do Ludmila Alekseeva, Sergei Kovalev and Valery Borshchev enter the room, joining Pavel Litvinov, Aleksander Cherkasov from Memorial. Galina Mikhaleva, who represents the Yabloko party, and Lev Gudkov, from Levada Centre.”

“Remarkably, he (Steven Korn) does not seem bothered that every sentence he makes contradicts the previous one.”

“Obviously, this bit about the radiant digital future is the centre of the whole presentation. One can imagine how convincing it sounded in Washington. The plans to invest in ‘state-of the-art digital equipment’ must have confirmed to the Broadcasting Board of Governors how seriously he takes his task of broadcasting to Russia!
On a Different Scale.
But his opponents in Moscow are not impressed. They look at the situation from a completely different angle. All of those who came to defend Radio Liberty see it as an issue of their country’s future, as the cause to which they devoted their lives. Some of them spent years in prison and exile in Soviet times; all of them live under constant threat today. They are the most active part of society, people who choose to fight the evil which has enslaved their country, even when the majority of the population has given in to fear, resignation and apathy. They see the recent developments at Radio Liberty in the context of Russian history and politics. And in this context the end to broadcasting and the dismissal of the best journalists cannot be seen as anything other than a surrender to Putin.”

“The timing of the decision is what appalled every speaker around the table – how can the dubious reforms be introduced now, when the country is undergoing a period of the darkest reaction, the clampdown against the winter protests by the President who, as soon as he had regained the office of president, immediately adopted a raft of anti-opposition laws?”

“It was Mikhail Sokolov, one of the best political journalists at the old Liberty who reproached Korn for betraying American values and the radio station’s mission . This accusation went unanswered, as did practically all the other arguments put forward by Korn’s opponents.”

“According to Lev Gudkov’s (renowned Russian sociologist) data, Radio Liberty shared an audience with the newspapers Vedomosti, Kommersant, Novaya gazeta, and partially with radio Echo Moskvy, reaching about 3-4m people in Russia. The change from radio to internet, warned Gudkov, would not only decrease the number of listeners, but also dramatically change the character of the audience. Targeting the internet–savvy younger audience would bring no benefit since these people already have a wide variety of channels at their disposal, and competing with those would undoubtedly prove a much riskier business than keeping the loyal, devoted audience that Radio Liberty has been able to boast of until now. Moreover, the 40 percent of Russia’s population who use the Internet regularly, at least on a weekly basis, live mostly in big cities. Two thirds of the country’s population – people who live in smaller cities and in the countryside – find themselves deprived of any independent media, while they remain exposed to the propaganda of the state-controlled TV channels. But of regular internet users in the cities only 10 per cent go on–line in search of political or social issues. To imagine that these people would start listening to Radio Liberty on their phones would be a huge mistake, concluded Gudkov.”

“Having made themselves dependent on the benevolence of the Russian government over the last twenty years, Western broadcasters had thought of no alternative to medium wave and FM frequencies in Russia, or being rebroadcast by Russia’s own stations. Yet there is no doubt that had they, or the government institutions that fund them, had the will to reach out to wider audiences in Russia, they would have found a way to do this. It is the will that is missing. So perhaps it’s wrong to say that it is just Steven Korn, who has betrayed Western values. The governments of the United States, of Britain and other European countries had long before beaten him to it.”

Read FULL ARTICLE by Masha Karp

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