Fired Radio Liberty chief web editor receives prestigious journalism prize in Russia
Lyudmila Telen, who in September was fired from her position as the chief editor of the Radio Liberty Russian website, has received a prestigious award from the Russian Union of Journalists for upholding “honor, dignity and professionalism,” including the three and half year period at her previous employer, the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
Telen had won other journalistic awards before joining Radio Liberty. She is already the third former Radio Liberty journalist who had been fired or resigned in protest last September to have received a prestigious journalism award in recent weeks to the embarrassment of the RFE/RL American management and the new Russian Service director Masha Gessen whose new team replaced Telen and her award-winning associates. Gessen was recruited by RFE/RL president Steven Korn who, according to media reports, has now been asked to resign by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the U.S. federal agency which controls RFE/RL, because his decision to hire Gessen and fire experienced journalists has produced a major scandal in Russia, especially among human rights and opposition political leaders. Russian media report that web visitors boycott the new Radio Liberty site redesigned by Gessen and that, according to statistics available online, it has lost more than half of its former traffic. In an earlier Russian TV interview, Lyudmila Telen said she was pained by catastrophic audience drop for Radio Liberty’s new Russian website.
Gessen refused to cover a previous journalistic award ceremony during which Elena Vlasenko, a young web editor and reporter who had worked for Telen at Radio Liberty and later resigned in protest against the brutal firing of dozens of her colleagues, was recognized for her online reporting with one of the Dr. Andrei Sakharov Prize “For Journalism as an Act of Conscience.” She was among four journalists who shared the second prize. The Sakharov Prize jury also recognized with a certificate the fired Radio Liberty Internet team which was headed by Lyudmila Telen. Normally, the prize is given to the editorial office for which the awarded journalist has worked, but the Sakharov jury refused to release it to Masha Gessen and the RFE/RL American management.
After she was fired by RFE/RL executives, Telen was recruited to be chief editor of a popular Russian magazine Soversheno Sekretno and asked to redesign its website. Elena Vlasenko, who resigned in protest from Radio Liberty, works with Telen at the magazine.
Earlier, Kristina Gorelik (Кристина Горелик), fired last September by American taxpayer-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) along with dozens of her colleagues, received the Moscow Helsinki Group prize for “journalistic activity aimed at promoting human rights values.” The prize was presented on the International Human Rights Day, December 10.
At Radio Liberty, Gorelik specialized in human rights reporting, but the new American management of RFE/RL cancelled her programs and those of other journalists whom they fired. Several other journalists resigned in protest and with their fired colleagues formed Radio Liberty in Exile. They launched their own website, LibertyNew.com.
Nearly all major Russian human rights leaders and democratic political figures, including Mikhail Gorbachev, issued statements in support of the fired journalists. Some have also appealed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Congress and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees Radio Liberty, to overrule the mass dismissal of Radio Liberty journalists and other recent personnel and programming decisions made by RFE/RL president and CEO Steven Korn and his top deputies. In remarks to senior staff at the RFE/RL headquarters in Prague, Korn said that that he would not have been able to convince Russian human rights activists and political leaders of anything, including what day it was.
The Moscow Helsinki Group, also known as the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group, (Московская Хельсинкская группа) is an influential human rights monitoring NGO which was established in the Soviet Union and still operates in today’s Russia. It is led by Lyudmila Alexeeva (Alexeyeva).
The last interview Kristina Gorelik recorded for Radio Liberty last September on the day she and other journalists were being fired was with Alexeeva. Gorelik and Alexeeva were inside the RFE/RL Moscow bureau recording the interview, while her colleagues were being prevented from entering the building by RFE/RL security guards. Later, Alexeeva told RFE/RL President and CEO Steven Korn that even repugnant wild capitalists in Russia treat their employees better than he had treated Radio Liberty journalists.
Radio Liberty recorded a short radio interview with Gorelik but the item was not put on the home page.
Gessen, however, declared the Sakharov human rights journalism awards to be “a low-profile event in Russia” and refused to cover it while continuing to fill the Radio Liberty home page with feature stories, such as romantic escapades of a university professor from the United States who traveled to Argentina to meet an attractive woman he got acquainted with online. The story, which was already weeks old when it was posted by Radio Liberty, stayed on the home page for many days, while some current important political news stories were not covered or reported on with considerable delays.
BBG Watch offered this commentary on Gessen’s refusal to cover the Sakharov journalism prizes:
“Ms. Gessen should truly be ashamed of herself for saying that a journalistic award named after Dr. Andrei Sakharov, one of the greatest fighters for human rights in the Soviet Union, is ‘a low-profile event’ in a country where independent journalists are routinely murdered, arrested, intimidated, and threatened with libel lawsuits. By refusing to cover these awards, Ms. Gessen helped President Putin and his state-controlled media to marginalize the Sakharov awards even further. Indeed, she helped Putin to make it a lower-profile event that it otherwise would have been. This, no doubt, made Putin happy, but BBG members and American taxpayers, who pay Gessen’s $200,000 salary and housing allowance in Moscow, perhaps less so. What a shame that Ms. Gessen believes that sexual adventures of a university professor from America are more important for the Russians to know about than journalism in defense of human rights.”