The Washington Free Beacon, 15 Oct 2012
, Adam Kredo: "America’s broadcast voice in Russia will soon be silenced following Moscow’s ratification of a new law that will force a legendary broadcasting company to abandon the Russian airwaves. Radio Liberty (RL), a division of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe (RFE), recently fired a large portion of its staff after the passage of a Russian law prohibiting foreign-owned media outlets from broadcasting on AM frequencies. The unexpected mass layoffs came as a shock to RL journalists and Russian human rights activists alike, and spurred accusations that the Obama administration is kowtowing to Russian President Vladimir Putin as he seeks to silence the democratic voice that helped topple communism. 'The timing of it, the way it was done, and the lack of explanation' sends an unfortunate message, said David Kramer, president of the human rights organization Freedom House. 'It creates the impression, whether intended or not, that the U.S. is pulling out [of Russia], and that’s not the impression we want to leave.' ... 'I think they have already destroyed the radio so much loved and followed by those Russian listeners who stand for freedom and democracy,' Mario Corti, a former director of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service, told the Free Beacon. 'They are lying to the media by playing down the scale of the firings.' Corti and other insiders who spoke to the Free Beacon both on and off the record believe that RFE’s Washington-based leadership used the new law as an excuse to abandon the radio businesses, which had become costly and difficult for D.C. bureaucrats to control."
Newsmax.com, 15 Oct 2012, Henry J. Reske: "Critics ... see the move as part of a larger plan by Radio Free Europe to move away from the costly radio business and to avoid angering Putin."
Heritage Foundation, 15 Oct 2012, Helle Dale: "The treatment inflicted on 41 Russian journalists in Moscow’s Radio Liberty office is nothing less than scandalous, and it threatens to silence American broadcasting into Russia for good. But what is even more scandalous is that it was not the Russian government that, without warning, shut those journalists out of their offices on September 20 and 21 with armed guards, marched them to a lawyer’s office, and demanded they sign away their jobs of many years. It was the government of the United States. ... There is time yet to reverse the wrong done to the Russian journalists who trusted the U.S. as a beacon of freedom. This decision to fire them should not stand."
Heritage Foundation, 17 Oct 2012, Helle Dale: "The disgraceful firing of Radio Liberty’s loyal Moscow staff on September 20 and 21 is the latest chapter in the Obama’s Administration’s Russia policy retreat, also known as the 'reset.' ... U.S.national interests abroad, including our security interests, continue to be compromised by the Obama Administration, and Russia is but one example. The worst part is that it is being done intentionally."
ConservativeHQ.com, 16 Oct 2012, George Rasley: "Reagan understood that to defeat the communist enemies of freedom, we had to engage them on every battlefield of national power: cultural, economic and military. That is why he pumped up Radio Liberty and the Voice of America, supported the Solidarity labor movement in Poland, deployed America's technological and industrial prowess in merciless military competition with the Soviets and made liberating the captive people of the Soviet empire the foundation of his foreign policy. ... Radio Liberty and the Voice of America were important parts of Reagan’s strategy to let the world know that America was 'freedom’s staunchest friend,' in spite of the fact they would 'piss off the Russians.' Radio Liberty and Voice of America were, and are, important to something that Ronald Reagan did so well, but that Barack Obama seems utterly incapable of understanding, let alone doing – selling freedom around the world."
Investor's Business Daily, 16 Oct 2012, editorial: "U.S. radio broadcasts to Russians are to end. With President Obama's friend Vladimir Putin getting a dubious 64% in a five-way presidential race in March, this is no time to pretend Russia is free. ... [T]here can be no hiding this as another component of President Obama's naive 'Russian reset' — which has included Obama appeasing Putin less than eight months after taking office by going back on our commitment to include Poland and the Czech Republic in our anti-ballistic missile defense system. Obama also has allowed Moscow to dwarf the U.S. in its number of tactical nuclear weapons. ... There is no doubt that Radio Liberty helped topple the USSR. Boris Yeltsin could not have survived climbing on that Red Army tank in Moscow in the summer of 1991 had the Russian people, including members of the military, not been told about freedom for so many years in their native tongue over the airwaves."
Wizbang, 19 Oct 2012, Warner Todd Huston: "It won’t be long before America’s voice for democracy will be silenced in Russia after the Obama administration fired most of the staff at the offices of Radio Liberty. In an effort to silence that U.S. voice for democracy, Putin’s Russia passed a new law on November 10 that makes it illegal to have radio stations that are more than 48 percent foreign-owned. The law ended Radio Liberty’s license to broadcast on the AM band in Russia. The original license was issued by Boris Yelstin in the days when Russia was promising to become a new beacon of democracy and freedom after generations of communist oppression in the former Soviet bloc. ... The knee-jerk reaction of the Obama administration to the new Russian law is thought to send all the wrong messages in a Russia with a resurgent police state."
The Moscow Times, 19 Oct 2012, Nikolaus von Twickel: "Statistics show that Radio Svoboda's listener numbers in Moscow have strongly declined over past years. The station's daily reach sank from 140,000, or 1.5 percent market share, between July and September 2007 to 104,100, or 1 percent market share, in the same period this year, according to data from market research firm TNS Global. By contrast, the commercially run Ekho Moskvy, a critical radio station owned by Gazprom Media, had just over 1 million listeners in Moscow between July and September this year. ... Danila Galperovich, who was among the Radio Svoboda reporters laid off last month, said competition in the media market for urban intellectuals is extremely tough. He named online television channel Dozhd, websites Snob.ru and Slon.ru, Kommersant FM and Bolshoi Gorod as strong competitors. 'There are already a lot of them. The market is full,' he said."
NPR, 16 Oct 2012, Corey Flintoff, via KMUW Wichita: New RFE/RL Russian director Masha Gessen "says the real challenge is to reach beyond the radio audience and even the audience for most websites. 'We are going to try to get away from the home-page model for websites,' Gessen says. 'We're going to look into something else that's very much in the [Radio Liberty] mandate, which is cooperating with Russian media to produce content for them.' Gessen says Radio Liberty will work with independent Russian television and online media. The idea will be to push content to consumers, rather than waiting for them to come to the home page. Gessen says that means hiring what she calls 'multidimensional journalists.'" With audio.
The Moscow Times, 16 Oct 2012, Steven Korn, president of RFE/RL: "Change is difficult and often requires a leap of faith that things can be as good or better in the future as they are today. Due to circumstances, Radio Svoboda must change, and many of our loyal listeners are understandably upset by that. Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of inaccurate information circulating in Russia and in the U.S. about the future of Radio Svoboda. This needs to be cleared up. ... Some of our critics incorrectly claim that Radio Svoboda is withdrawing or retrenching in Russia. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are not decreasing the amount of money we are spending on Radio Svoboda. On the contrary, with our new approach we will be able to spend more of our budget directly on programming and cutting-edge equipment and technology." -- This op-ed is largely the same as Mr. Korn's remarks at the Broadcasting Board of Governors meeting on 11 October. See previous post.
The Moscow Times, 19 Oct 2012, Nikolaus von Twickel: "Radio Liberty is hiring dozens of staff to rebuild its operations in a modern multimedia format, a senior executive of the station's parent company Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said Friday. After moving to a new bureau in Moscow, Radio Liberty's staff is to number 40 to 50 people in both Moscow and Prague, Julia Ragona, Radio Free Europe's vice president of content, distribution and marketing, told The Moscow Times. That number is about half of the 'close to 90 people' that the station employed in both cities until September, when more than 40 journalists were laid off in Moscow, reducing the local bureau to a staff of just 10. Ragona said that the layoffs were necessary to build a 'single team' with different skills that would focus on turning Radio Liberty into a digital multimedia outlet under its new director, Masha Gessen. Hitherto the station consisted of two separate teams for radio and online content, she said. ... Ragona admitted that a small and 'dedicated' audience did use AM, but added that, especially in Moscow, the signal was so bad that it was 'very painful to listen to.' ... Radio Liberty ... explored taking on a Russian partner to circumvent the law, but a planned deal with Alexander Lebedev, who owns Novaya Gazeta and a number of Moscow radio stations, fell through because his licenses did not allow the content necessary for Radio Liberty, Ragona said."
I'm sure the conservative commentators cited above will join me in calling for any broadcasting entity to have a strong labor union, and collective bargaining rights for its employees. (Sound of crickets chirping.) BBC World Service is also eliminating positions, 73 in number, but for reasons that are much more obvious than the RFE/RL dismissals in Moscow. To be sure, the UK media unions NUJ and BECTU will be involved in the process, ameliorating the effects as much as possible. As BBCWS director Peter Horrocks stated in his memo to staff: "We have notified the NUJ and BECTU of these proposals and will consult both them and staff affected so that we can look for ways to reduce the number of compulsory redundancies where possible."
It is possible that the RFE/RL Russian developments will be mentioned in the presidential debate, focusing on foreign affairs, on 22 October.
See previous post about same subject.