Posted: 31 Dec 2012 Print Send a link
RFE/RL press release, 31 Dec 2012, message from Steve Korn to the BBG: "If there is one lesson that I hope to have imparted to my colleagues it is that change is inevitable, constant, and necessary to the continued vitality of RFE/RL. To be frank, when I arrived I found a degree of institutional inertia and insular self-satisfaction that I thought could be harmful to the future of the company. The company had become too comfortable with its past successes and current methods. Despite the expressed desires of some, RFE/RL is not a think tank. We are a news and information company with a very specific mission that competes against highly focused, better resourced competitors that often play by rules that we reject and abhor. We cannot rest on our reputation, past successes or the righteousness of our mission. As George Romney prophetically told his son Mitt in reference to the U.S. auto industry: 'there’s nothing as vulnerable as entrenched success'. ... At every turn since I joined RFE/RL I have supported and, indeed defended, the Board’s strategy for USIB, even as others have resisted your vision for the agency. Your vision for consolidation and elimination of language service duplication was rejected by many, but I thought it was smart and necessary and said so publicly when doing so was not the most popular position to take. Unfortunately, these efforts are, at best, stalled. ... It is all too painfully known to everyone involved with U. S. International Broadcasting that the organization suffers from structural dysfunction that has a significantly negative impact on the entire agency. There is constant internecine warfare over issues large and small. There are indeed serious battles to be fought. If, however, we spend all of our time fighting among ourselves over petty issues, then our real adversaries and competitors will waltz to victory in the 'information war'. I hope that you will find a way to heal USIB so that the good people who have devoted their lives to the agency’s important mission can do their jobs and receive the Board’s support. Perhaps the imminent public release of the Inspector General’s report on the BBG will provide the impetus for the change that is so sorely needed if the mission is to be accomplished. At my initial meeting with the Presidential search committee I said that if they wanted to hire someone to merely babysit RFE/RL, that I was not the person for the job."
Wall Street Journal, 30 Dec 2012, John O'Sullivan, former Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty executive editor (2008-11) and vice president (2011): "Two external critics invited to critique RL—a BBC World Service veteran and a Daily Telegraph Internet pioneer—concluded that the service was doing the right things. The outsiders' verdict annoyed those managers who wanted more popular fare. But the managers were bureaucrats, not program-makers. They needed a simpatico editorial vision. They found it in Masha Gessen, the Radio Liberty director appointed by RFE/RL President Korn after the September housecleaning. 'I want to do a kind of journalism that no one is doing at the moment. I would describe it as normal journalism,' she told the Moscow Times shortly after her appointment. 'Something that's not polemical, like opposition media, and something that's not controlled by the Kremlin.' In practice this journalism has turned out to be softer news features in which liberty is likely to mean sexual liberation (with illustrations) rather than 'political' aspects of human rights. Five years ago when young Russians were alienated from politics, there might have been a case for Radio Liberty to take that approach. But other news outlets are doing such journalism in Moscow today—with Mr. Putin's blessing. As for normality, well, normal journalism in an environment of worsening authoritarianism surely includes the kind of 'opposition media' that Ms. Gessen disdains."
"[N]ot polemical, like opposition media, and something that's not controlled by the Kremlin," sounds to me like an ideal formula for US international broadcasting to Russia. It's also probably the reason why the BBC is the most successful international broadcasting website in Russia. One can argue whether RFE/RL's execution of such a formula is as it should be. But I also disdain "opposition media," because it is really just the other side of the coin of the dictators' media. It is not really journalism. And something that tries to mix news with opposition media is not really journalism, either.
See previous post about same subject.