Heritage Foundation aims its bullet points at the Radio Liberty Russian controversy.

Posted: 21 Dec 2012   Print   Send a link
Heritage Foundation, 13 Dec 2012, Ariel Cohen and Helle C. Dale: "During the first Obama term, RL/RFE management changed hands and is now under the presidency of former CNN broadcaster Steven Korn. Vice President for Content Julia Ragona, in charge of RL reorganization, previously ran a lucrative business in Russia in partnership with the Russian government, which some believe may have created a conflict of interest. In Moscow, an office of some 100 broadcasters who have brought the uncensored news to Russians is now decimated. On September 20 and 21, without warning, over 40 of RL’s staff were summarily fired. The way this was done is what one would expect from the Soviet or Russian government. The staffers were blocked from entering their offices and escorted out by armed guards. The decision was allegedly the result of a new media law that took effect in Moscow on November 10, ending Radio Liberty’s license to broadcast on AM radio. This change in the media law came soon after Moscow ordered the closing in October of the offices of USAID, which it accused of political interference. However, RL management did not attempt to negotiate an exception, collaborate with a Russian media organization, or intervene in Washington in order to apply equivalent treatment to Russia Today TV and Voice of Russia radio."

The Heritage Foundation fellows could not resist this opportunity to take a swipe at President Obama. It is actually the Broadcasting Board of Governors (now, granted, with a Democratic majority) that hires the heads of USIB entities. And can fire them.

Advice from Heritage tends to be of the easier-said-than-done variety. It is difficult to get access to Russian domestic broadcasting outlets. VOA does lease a half hour on a Moscow medium wave (AM) frequency, but leases of longer duration could be expensive and not worth it given the small remaining audience on the medium wave band.

On the other hand, depending on internet delivery means Radio Liberty Russian, or svoboda.org, will be in the company of tens of thousands of websites, includes hundreds that are news oriented. On the medium wave band, at least, the number of competitors is reduced to a couple of dozen stations. Furthermore, a radio frequency, or at least a radio program, provides an anchor of legitimacy that can drive more traffic to the svoboda.org, whether via PC or mobile device.

With the Russian government capable of tightening internet controls, it might be a good time for Russians to become reacquainted with shortwave radio. Shortwave will never return to popularity in Russia, but serious news consumers should keep a shortwave radio on hand. US international broadcasting would need to market a new generation of shortwave radios that provide easy tuning, and perhaps also allow the reception of text as well as audio. USIB still has the facilities to deliver a good signal into Russia. Russia could attempt to jam these broadcasts, but this would require an expensive and complicated investment in equipment.

Finally, international commercial channels such as Discovery and CNN International have access to the Russian viewers through Russian cable and direct-to-home satellite services. USIB should explore this avenue, if not a by a 24/7 channel, then by time on existing international channels, even if it is by way of purchasing 60-second spots.

Radio World, 19 Dec 2012, Randy J. Stine: "A new Russian law that prohibits foreign-owned radio companies from broadcasting from that country has forced Radio Liberty’s Russian service, Radio Svoboda, from the AM band. The broadcast service remains available on shortwave and via satellite. The broadcaster has said it plans to expand its digital platforms. ... International broadcasting analysts said the development will challenge the Broadcasting Board of Governors to find ways to cope with the loss of the terrestrial AM signal in Russia and increase listenership at a time when it’s increasingly splintered among media platforms. It will be increasingly difficult to reach older demographics, they said. ... The loss of the AM signal in Moscow will be minimized by moving quickly toward new digital strategy and platforms, said Martins Zvaners, RFE/RL deputy director of communications. 'Reception of Radio Svoboda programming in central Moscow was difficult because of electricity generated from overhead cables used to power the city’s network of trams, which makes it very difficult to listen to any AM broadcast signal in the city. The footprint of the AM signal covered Moscow and the suburbs,' Zvaners said."

Voice of Russia, 15 Dec 2012, citing BBC: "The Freedom House President, David Kramer, said Thursday he disapproved of the recent reform of the Radio Liberty Russian Service that resulted in mass dismissals. He feels the President and CEO of Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe Steven Korn did great damage to the radio station. The BBG commission voiced concern about a 50% drop in Radio Liberty website traffic in the past two months."

Orer.eu, 13 Dec 2012, Lev Roitman, letter to BBG members: "You never understood that international reputation of American broadcasting entities aimed at overseas audiences (RFE/RL, MBN, etc.) is reflected not by your self-aggrandizing statements at BBG meetings, but by foreign public opinion formed by mass media."

Blogger News Network, 20 Dec 2012, Ted Lipien, citing BBG Watch: "Radio Liberty Internet team fired last September by American executives of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) received last Saturday in Moscow a prestigious Sakharov human rights journalism prize along with its star young reporter and web editor Elena Vlasenko who had resigned from RFE/RL in protest against the dismissal of her colleagues."

See previous post about same subject.