Success Stories of Fired Radio Liberty Journalists


by Mario Corti
November 14, 2012. News agencies and other media announce the appointment of Ludmila Telen as chief editor of the monthly magazine Sovershenno sekretno. Two months earlier, along with dozens of her colleagues, Telen had been fired by American taxpayer-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), where she had worked as chief editor of the Russian Service web site. Ludmila Telen is a prizewinner of the Golden Penn, a journalistic award of the Russian Union of Journalists.
November 19. Journalists, fired from the Moscow bureau of Radio Liberty (Radio Svoboda), have launched their own news site Radio Svoboda in Exile.
December 10. International Human Rights Day. Kristina Gorelik receives the Moscow Helsinki Group prize for “journalistic activity aimed at promoting human rights values.” She was among the RFE/RL Russian Service journalists fired in September.
December 16. Elena Vlasenko is awarded the 2nd Sakharov Prize “For Journalism as an Act of Conscience”. Previously she had worked as a reporter and web editor for the RFE/RL Russian Service Internet team. She resigned in protest against the brutal firing of dozens of her colleagues. Normally, the Sakharov journalism prize is given to the nominee and the editorial office, but the jury did not want to present the prize to the new management of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service. Instead it was presented to Ludmila Telen.
December 26. Ludmila Telen receives 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.
Radio Liberty Russian Service former reporter and journalism student Irina Chevtayeva wins the “Anna Politkovskaya Award” for students of journalism in the nomination “for the best practices in the field of political journalism.” Like Elena Vlasenko, Chevtayeva had resigned in protest against the brutal firing of dozens of her colleagues.
December 27. The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency in charge of U.S. international broadcasting that funds and oversees Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, issues a press release proudly honoring the achievements of, among others, Kristina Gorelik, Elena Vlasenko and Ludmila Telen, but failing to mention that they had been previously fired by RFE/RL.
January 28, 2013. One day after Holocaust Remembrance Day, the monthly magazine Sovershenno sekretno publishes a story by Mumin Shakirov under the title “Kholokost, klei dlia oboev?”– “Holocaust, Wallpaper Paste?”[/aside]
Mario CortiIn December 2011, Ksenia Karatygina and her twin sister Evgenia, two young women from the region of Vladimir, in Russia, participated in a game show on the entertainment Muz-TV channel. The show, called “Bezumno krasivye,” is the Russian version of the original Dutch TV program “Pretty Smart.”
The two young women were asked: “What was the Holocaust?” After briefly consulting with her sister, Evgenia replied: “We think it’s a wallpaper paste.”
Mumin Shakirov, at that time a Radio Liberty Russian Service journalist based in Moscow, was one of hundreds of thousands of Russians who watched the show. He decided to invite the two women to participate in a Radio Liberty program together with Alla Gerber, the Holocaust Fund Chairwoman.
In came out in an interview that Ksenia and Evgenia also had not heard anything about the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. At that point, Mumin, who is a trained documentary film maker, had a terrific idea: why not take them to the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, which is located in Poland. A visit would generate material for more radio and online reports and at the same time he would create a documentary film.
What he proposed to the upper management was a typical Radio Liberty project, perfectly in line with the RFE/RL’s mission statement. Aside from the obvious human angle, including helping the two women and many more other young people in Russia understand the meaning of the Jewish Holocaust, it would have been an excellent source of news, media-rich content and good publicity.
In addition to text, video and audio reports, the story could have been translated into the various RFE/RL languages, including English, and widely distributed online all over the world. Mumin presented his proposal to the management. The estimated cost was approximately $6,000.
The RFE/RL management under former President Steven Korn did not even bother to respond and shortly thereafter it fired Shakirov along with more than 30 of his colleagues. Several more journalists resigned in protest.
Mumin Shakirow was one of those Radio Liberty Russian journalists who supposedly did not have “the skills required to produce the type of video, audio and text content that listeners and viewers demand,” as the then RFE/RL President Steven Korn wrote in an article published by The Moscow Times. Korn admitted he did not know any of the journalists he fired, including Mumin. He knew only one journalist–Masha Gessen whom he appointed to be the director of the Russian Service.
But Mumin was tenacious. He didn’t get discouraged and did not give up on his idea even after he was fired. He managed to convince someone in the Polish Cultural Center in Moscow to fund his video project. In October he took the two sisters on a visit to the museum and memorial complex of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Some of the money for the film was provided by the Moscow Goethe Institute; the rest he paid out of his own pocket.

Incidentally, the film should be ready in about two months, provided that Mumin finds the additional money needed for the editing, etc. There is no doubt in my mind that he’ll find it.
Mumin’s story first appeared in the monthly Russian magazine Sovershenno sekretno, including the film trailer which was posted on the magazines’ web site and by now has been viewed around the world. Everyone could see the intense emotions of the two young women while visiting the memorial complex of Auschwitz-Birkenau–their tears, the shock, the horror and compassion depicted on their faces.
Independent Russian media picked up on this story.
(BBG Watch could not, however, find any articles on it on Masha Gessen’s redesigned Radio Liberty website.)
Even the RFE/RL English website published an account and initially reposted the Holocaust film trailer from the site of Sovershenno sekretno, without giving credit to the Russian news magazine.
There was, however, one small detail missing in the RFE/RL English report: namely that Mumin Shakirov had been fired from Radio Liberty because Steven Korn thought he did not have the skills required to produce exactly the kind of project he produced. RFE/RL also failed to mention that Ludmila Telen, the newly appointed chief editor of Sovershenno sekretno, was also fired from RFE/RL, where she was responsible for the Russian Service website.
Mumin Shakirov and other award-winning journalists: Kristina Gorelik, Ludmila Telen, Elena Vlasenko, Irina Chevtayeva along with their colleagues Mikhail Sokolov, Anna Kachkaeva, Marina Timasheva, Elena Fanailova, Elena Rykovtseva and many others–those fired by RFE/RL because they “do not have the skills” and those who resigned–are all highly successful professionals who continue to keep themselves busy publishing online, participating in or producing TV and radio shows, and writing articles for various print media.
Mikhail Sokolov, for example, has now his own weekly show on a popular independent FM radio Ekho Moskvy. In a voluntary effort, the fired journalists and their colleagues who resigned in protest have launched their own website Novaya Svoboda– and Radio Liberty in Exile Facebook page. They are using all the new advanced platforms, USTREAM live online TV, Google Hangout video discussions and others that Korn told the Broadcasting Board of Governors in Washington they were incapable of embracing. He thought it was necessary to build for Radio Liberty an expensive “state-of-the-art” new “video and digital facility” in Moscow. Meanwhile, Radio Liberty lost its best multimedia professionals and its reputation for professional journalism.
While contributing to other media and to their own new Internet site, these distinguished journalists keep carrying on RFE/RL’s mission. They are being followed by many who have abandoned Radio Liberty, including some of the most famous democratic leaders, human rights activists, intellectuals and ordinary Radio Liberty supporters.
In carrying out their insane “reform,” Korn, Ragona, Gessen and their active or supine accomplices forced these talented individuals to become unwilling but serious competitors of Radio Liberty in Russia. Let’s hope they have not been lost forever and that they will soon return to RFE/RL.