The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting Condemns Crippling of Radio Liberty in Russia

September 30, 2012
For Immediate Release

The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting Condemns Crippling of Radio Liberty in Russia

The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) stands in solidarity with Lyudmila Alexeeva, Chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, in her call for the expansion of Radio Liberty broadcasts in Russia and the reversal of the sudden decision to to fire dozens of experienced human rights journalists at the RL bureau in Moscow. CUSIB supports the call of Russian human rights leaders to the U.S. Congress to investigate the actions of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) management that have crippled Radio Liberty and damaged America’s image in Russia.

CUSIB condemns RFE/RL executives for engineering a mass firing of Radio Liberty journalists precisely at the time when the Kremlin bans RL broadcasts in Moscow, having already banned them in the rest of Russia, and stifles all other independent media which support democracy. The timing of the firing and an earlier selection of a new Radio Liberty Russian Service director shortly before the mass purge of personnel and immediately after a semi-private meeting with President Putin could not have been worse from a public diplomacy perspective regardless of the candidate’s anti-Kremlin views. Russia is a country where opposition leaders feel that the U.S. Administration does not care much about violations of human rights. Russian media coverage of RFE/RL management’s actions has been uniformly negative, some describing as a mockery the management’s explanations that fired employees were treated with respect and that they in fact were not fired but signed voluntary termination agreements and departed happily.

CUSIB is disturbed by this account in openDemocracyRussia of a former Radio Liberty journalist and filmmaker Mumin Shakirov how he and his colleagues were called suddenly at their homes by a receptionist and told to report to the office of an international law firm where they learned that they were being dismissed.

“The lawyer’s arguments are convincing: legal action against the company will be fruitless; he is making us an offer we can’t refuse; mutual agreement, severance packages, everyone to hand in their ID passes and equipment. Full stop. Nearly twenty journalists lost their jobs that day, and the same number the next. In two days, Radio Liberty’s Moscow office was shut down. Not a thank you, not a goodbye. End of the story. Curtains. Nearly twenty years of working for the station finished.”

CUSIB notes that Russian human rights activists concluded that even the KGB was not able to inflict as much damage on Radio Liberty and America’s image in Russia as did RFE/RL management by its most recent actions.

CUSIB also notes that the loss of the AM transmitter in Moscow and the shift to Internet, where Radio Liberty is already well-established, did not require abandonment of vigorous broadcasting, which will be impossible without the carefully built-up pool of talent. Streaming and podcasting are widely accepted now and used by Radio Liberty. Furthermore, hybrid text and sound websites are well-established models which Radio Liberty already follows. None of those models require cutting loose the journalists that have won Radio Liberty a distinguished reputation and loyal audience.

CUSIB is appalled by accusations of slander against some of these fired employees for criticizing the actions of RFE/RL management. President Putin has recently signed a law reimposing large fines for slander. Such accusations alone stifle free debate.

CUSIB appeals to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to intervene on behalf of these brave men and women, who were subjected to a humiliating treatment by their American mangers, and to defend the sense of mission and reputation of this U.S. taxpayer-supported institution.

The letter of protest, signed by Russia’s most famous human rights leaders, was sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Congress.

The letter was also addressed to Senator Benjamin Cardin who is Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which also is referred to as the U.S. Helsinki Commission. The commission is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords and works to address and assess democratic, economic, and human rights developments. Its other Co-Chairman is Rep. Chris Smith.

For further information, please contact:

Ann Noonan, co-founder and Executive Director

Tel. 646-251-6069

Ted Lipien, co-founder

Tel. 415-793-1642

The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) is a nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization working to strengthen free flow of uncensored news from the United States to countries with restricted and developing media environments.