Letter to the Editor from Mario Corti
A Wikipedia article on Andrei Babitsky (Russian: Андрей Маратович Бабицкий, born September 26, 1964, in Moscow) describes him as “a Russian journalist and war reporter, who has worked for Radio Liberty since 1989, covering the 1991 August Coup, Civil War in Tajikistan and, most notably, both Chechen Wars from behind Chechen lines. Babitsky is most famous for his kidnapping by the Russian forces in January–February 2000 during the Second Chechen War and his 2005 video interview with Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev.” The interview with Basayev was the first broadcast on ABC and incurred the wrath of Russian officials.
Letter to the Editor of Free Media Online from Mario Corti
According to an article by Petra Prochazkova in the Czech newspaper Lidove Noviny of April 7, 2014 (title in English: “He had the wrong opinion on Crimea. Removed”), which has just been brought to my attention, Andrei Babitsky, the chief editor of the RFE/RL Russian blog “Caucasus Echo,” was dismissed from his position for sharing Putin’s thesis that Russia had the right to take the population of Crimea under Russian protection.
Babistky’s statement, posted on the “Caucasus Echo” blog, consists just of a short one-sentence introductory note to a larger commentary, titled (in English) “It’s not about Crimea,” which is harshly critical of Vladimir Putin for his calling as “traitors” those Russians who do not agree with Crimea’s annexation.
Let me make it clear, before I get to the point I want to make, that my opinion is diametrically opposite to that of Andrei Babitsky’s: I think that Russia has annexed Crimea in violation of its own commitment to respect the independence, sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine (see the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances signed by Russia, USA andGreat Britain on December 5, 1994).
However, should it be true that Babitsky was dismissed from his post for expressing an opinion in a commentary—which is a legitimate genre of journalism and which by definition expresses the personal views of its author—then the case would be similar to that of Moscow State Institute of Foreign Relations (MGIMO) professor Andrei Zubov, who was recently sacked for his criticism of Russia’s adventure in Ukraine. Babitsky was not fired from RFE/RL, but he was removed from his position as the chief editor of “Caucasus Echo.”
The dismissal of Andrei Zubov was announced in Moscow by his employer – MGIMO in a public statement and was subsequently publicized worldwide. Zubov’s case was also extensively discussed in quite a number of RFE/RL broadcasts and on its web pages.
As far as Andrei Babitsky is concerned, an internationally known journalist, RFE/RL in Prague and the BBG in Washington have yet to provide to the public a valid reason for removing him from his previous position.
The motto of RFE/ RL has always been, and I very much hope it still is, a quotation from article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “everyone» has «the right to… seek, receive and impart information and ideas… regardless of frontiers.”
I worked for many years at Radio Liberty, and I always thought and was taught there, that RL must be and indeed is a paragon of freedom of speech. It cannot be otherwise. How could RFE/RL be effective and convincing to its target audience if it betrayed the principles it tries to promote, first and foremost freedom of opinion?
What is certain is that Babitsky’s commentary was removed from the RFE/RL web page.
BBG Watch has recently published an Open letter by the Czech Helsinki Committee to the Czech Prime Minister (dated March 28, 2014) under the title “Radio Free Europe Violates Human Rights and Hospitality of the Czech Republic.” According to the letter RFE/RL has adopted labor policies providing no legal rights to its foreign personnel in the Czech Republic and inconsistent with RFE/RL’s mission statement: “to promote democratic values and institutions,” “strengthen civil societies by projecting democratic values,” “provide a model for local media….”
A similar concept was expressed in an editorial under the title “Equality With Precondition. Practice of Radio Free Europe Contradicts its Own Ideals”, published earlier in the same pro-American Czech newspaper “Lidove Noviny,”: “Prague headquarters of RFE/RL, while pretending to be a messenger of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, behaves as an employer as if though the principles it heralds are relevant ‘just’ for the whole planet but not for… that estimable organization itself.”
Incidentally, Andrei Babitsky is one of those foreigners deprived by RFE/RL of any defendable labor rights.
Again, should it be true that Babitsky was removed from his position for expressing an opinion, then RFE/RL, I believe, is betraying its own mission and putting at great risk its credibility with the audience.
I attach a link to the Russian text of Babitsky’s commentary and a scan of the article in “Lidove Noviny.”