Armenian journalist appeals to Obama to protect rights of foreign journalists at U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Armenian journalist Anna Karapetian (photo) has written a letter to President Obama asking him to protect the rights of foreign journalists employed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which is managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and funded by U.S. Congress.


a commentary by Lev Roitman

Evidently, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) bureaucrats (President Jeffrey Gedmin) are in dire need for public celebrations together with the new Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Never mind the calendar. Otherwise, one is hard put to understand why on September 28th they collectively marked in the Washington Newseum the 60th Anniversary of the first RFE broadcast that happen to take place from New York on the 4th of July. And, as it seems, the joint celebration will be set forth.

In October, new BBG (in place since June 30th ) is for the first time coming to RFE/RL in Prague. BBG Chairman, Mr. Walter Isaacson, at the festive event in Washington, quote: “And thanks to Jeff (Gedmin), we’ve arranged to have a meeting with Havel”. No doubt, for BBG, it will be a memorable event. But, quite possibly, also an embarrassing one. For the former Czech President Vaclav Havel who came to personify morality, honesty and human decency, is well aware of the scandalous events that systematically ruin moral reputation of the American RFE/RL hosted since the time of his presidency by the Czech Republic.

In addition, BBG will meet in Prague the Nobel Prize winner, Shirin Ebady, Iranian human-rights lawyer. However, one may wonder, why RFE/RL President did not arrange for the BBG also a meeting with staunchly pro-American Czech senator Jaromir Stetina who actively strives to protect and improve RFE/RL moral standing. Probably, the answer may be found in the following letter addressed to President Obama by former RFE/RL employee Anna Karapetian. With her expressed permission, the letter is reproduced below.

“September 19, 2010

Re: Broadcasting Board of Governors and Radio Free Europe – Your Intervention

Dear Mr. President:

I am an Armenian journalist with over twenty years of professional experience, mother of three minors, whose employment with American Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Prague was terminated after 12 years of impeccable service – without any reason given to me, without any prior warning or corrective measures, without even severance pay for the years of work — because I refused to sign a consent with such a termination, accept the “shut up” severance money and give up my right of appeal to the court of law.

As it happened, the very same day, 6/30/2010, the American Senate in Washington approved your presidential nominees to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), I received in Prague the decision of the Czech Supreme Court. The Court overruled all previous, negative for me, decisions of the lower courts in my human rights labor dispute with RFE/RL and returned the case for a new consideration. This very welcome victory could, however, mean additional years of legal battles in Czech courts – should RFE/RL be permitted to further insist on the assumed right to discriminate its foreign employees in the Czech Republic.

RFE/RL personnel policies were instituted by the former BBG. Under new BBG, they remain unchanged. Equally unchanged remains negative multilingual echo accompanying peculiar brand of “public diplomacy” practiced by RFE/RL bureaucrats. Quite a number of devastating articles (“From RFE/RL: Immorality as Matter of Policy”, Czech Supreme Court Rules Against Radio Free Europe. Karapetian’s Case Returned for New Consideration”, “Radio Free Europe – Task for Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg”, to mention but a few) had appeared after new BBG was publicly inaugurated.

This is why, Mr. President, I dare to ask for your personal attention and intervention. The problem created by American RFE/RL is not a legal one to be solved by foreign courts. It is purely political, moral and ethical issue.

Signing a standardized RFE/RL Employment Agreement “governed by the applicable laws of the United States, the laws of the District of Columbia or the Policies of the Company”, all non-American journalists trustfully and proudly placed themselves under the protective hand of RFE/RL, a beacon of human rights (on air). Only after landing jobless on the streets of Prague, I discovered that I and several hundred of my non-American colleagues, mostly from the target countries in RFE/RL broadcast area, being foreigners working for American employer outside the United States, are exempt from legal protections provided to Americans by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Civil Rights Act of 1964, District of Columbia Human Rights Act of 1977, or by any other American labor law. RFE/RL Czech employees are protected by Czech labor legislation. However, RFE/RL foreign employees are intentionally placed in legal vacuum.

How could RFE/RL offer such deceptive contracts to its foreign employees, knowing that they, for any practical purpose, cannot appeal to American courts? How could it defend its actions in Czech courts – until the Supreme Court did not cancel the decisions of lower courts in my case? The answer is dishonorable – to RFE/RL that historically unmasked Communist lies.

Formally, Czech Republic still has some regulations dating back to the Communist era, which allowed foreign companies to use foreign labor laws if they did not contradict the fundamentals of the “Czechoslovak Socialist Republic”. Absurd as it may sound, but in Czech courts RFE/RL refers to the Communist law of 1963 written to allow Soviet enterprises to use Soviet labor regulations in subjugated Czechoslovakia. What a hypocrisy!

Scandalous result of those legal tricks and gimmicks is that another former RFE/RL employee, Croatian citizen Snjezana Pelivan, brought the case against Czech Republic, RFE/RL host country, in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg — the first such case in the long history of RFE/RL. She considers also a formal application to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva where, as you know, a great number of its members (Libya, China, Russia, etc) is regularly criticized by the United States for human rights violations, and Cuba holds the chair of Vice President.

Countless reports, articles, commentaries, radio and TV broadcasts highly critical of RFE/RL discriminative personnel policies have appeared by now in American, Czech, Armenian, Croatian, Russian, Slovak print and electronic media, including statements from Czech politicians. Former Czech President Vaclav Havel, prominent human rights activist, in front of the running TV-cameras promised to personally monitor the court cases of arbitrarily fired RFE/RL employees. Czech Parliament already twice considered official inquiries (interpellations) concerning RFE/RL personnel policies. Czech Senator Jaromir Stetina who protested personally against human rights violations in Cuba and Belarus, deputy Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Defense and Security, member of the Senate Commission on International Support for Democracy, wrote an indignant open letter to American senators describing the RFE/RL actions as “patiently indecent, unfair, cynical and hypocritical”.

Recently, Senator Stetina, Vice-chairman of the Senate caucus of TOP 09 party headed by Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, has asked the Minister to request the U.S. Secretary of State, BBG member ex officio, to stop ASAP the ongoing human rights violations by RFE/RL at the territory of Czech Republic. Beginning of October, Karel Schwarzenberg shall meet Mrs. Hillary Clinton in Washington. Copies of Senator’s letter were received also by the Speaker and Vice-speakers of the Czech Parliament representing the parties of the governmental coalition. BBG is aware of that letter, either.

Published in several languages, influential Armenian newspaper AZG (People) in extensive article, “Cases of Karapetian and Pelivan as Morality Check for Obama Administration. Radio Free Europe to Face European Court of Human Rights”, wrote:
The most devious anti-American mind would not be able to design an international media campaign so devastating to RFE/RL and, by natural extension, to American image and trustworthiness abroad, as the American RFE/RL managed to cause on its own.

In fact, RFE/RL, a highly visible overseas institution of American public diplomacy intended to be a powerful tool of American “soft power”, damages America’s reputation abroad. Undoubtedly, your authoritative and timely advice will change the unfortunate situation.

I don’t think, it is that complicated. First, nominated by you present BBG should seek a quiet peaceful resolution of the ongoing legal battles. Simply, the battlefield of RFE/RL-BBG public diplomacy should be not in foreign courts but in foreign public opinion. Second, RFE/RL shameful policies of “no-rights-to-foreigners” must be changed. People whose voices carry to their still undemocratic or less democratic countries the noble American messages of universal respect for human rights, national equality, rule of law and legal safeguards against arbitrariness, should not be just the rightless mercenaries in a professionally organized show. Instead, do “show the world the best face of America” — for the sake of dignity, moral influence and political reputation of American RFE/RL.
And I hope that change will come soon.

Thank you very much in advance, Mr. President.
Yours, with highest respect,
Anna Karapetian”

Mr. Isaacson and the rest of BBG, including Hillary Clinton, an ex officio member of both BBG and RFE/RL Board of Directors, have received copies of Karapetian’s letter to President Obama. On September 28th, at the RFE/RL belated celebration in Washington, Mr. Isaacson rolled out his impressive vision of technical possibilities to enhance the impact of American international message via Internet. Moral reputation of the messengers, the international broadcasters subordinate to BBG, was not mentioned. The topic did not fit the occasion? Will it be addressed in Prague?

Lev Roitman
Former RFE/RL senior commentator
(Ret. 2005)

Disclosure: Lev Roitman is married to Snjezana Pelivan, another former RFE/RL media specialist dismissed under similar circumstances as Anna Karapetian. Ms. Pelivan’s case is now pending before the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg.

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  • Edward Alexander
    Posted October 4, 2010 12:29 pm 0Likes

    As a former official of both the “Voice of America” and the Board for International Broadcasting, I strongly urge reconsideration of Anna Karapetian’s appeal. Her plight is so obviously in direct contradiction of the principles on which our system of government is based that her lack of citizenship should be trumped by yet another principle, namely human compassion.

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