Julia Ragona (Vice President of Content, Distribution, and Marketing, at RFE/RL, Inc.) said Saturday (9/22/2012) that Radio Liberty (RL) is making the change November 10, when a new Russian law takes effect.  

Ragona said RL is reducing its staff by a substantial amount and said those leaving are doing so by mutual agreement, with severance packages.

A source from RL had told Interfax earlier on Friday (9/21/2012) that employees of its Moscow office were being sacked in droves. "Virtually everybody is getting sacked -- they are calling them in alphabetical order and giving them a sack. True, they offer compensations depending on who is sacked," the source said.

About 40 journalists and editors were let go amid speculation that the broadcaster was clearing house ahead of the arrival of new director Maria (Masha) Gessen.

The new law will ban radio broadcasting in Russia by companies that are more than 48% owned by foreign individuals or legal entities. On November 10, 2012, RL will stop medium-wave broadcasting (AM 1044kHz) in Moscow and will switch over to the multimedia internet, satellite, and short waves (AM) broadcasting. The decision was due to the Russian law on mass media banning radio broadcasting in Russia by companies partially or fully owned by foreign individuals or legal entities. The law comes into force on November 10.

Maria Gessen, formerly editor-in-chief of Vokrug Sveta and an editor at Snob, who on October 1, 2012, will become the director of the RL Russian service, told media she has nothing to do with the dismissals. Gessen said she had sent a letter to RFE/RL in May, 2012, as a consultant, in which she "described the general situation in the Moscow office and gave a number of recommendations, noting that a decision on particular individuals would have to be made by a new director, whoever it is."

BBG Watch Commentary:
As the Kremlin orders USAID to pull out of Russia, accusing the U.S. government agency of giving support to anti-Putin groups, and the Russian Parliament tentatively approves a new law expanding the definition of treason, the President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), also a U.S.-funded operation, has announced his decision to select Masha Gessen, an anti-Putin journalist and gay rights activist, to be the new director of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service. Casting security concerns aside, Steven Korn also announced that Ms. Gessen, who reportedly has a dual Russian and U.S. citizenship, will be based in Moscow rather than at the RFE/RL headquarters in Prague, the Czech Republic. He further announced that due to a new, even more restrictive Russian media law, RL will no longer be able to broadcast on a medium wave frequency in Moscow, but that the Russian authorities have allowed RFE/RL to construct a larger news facility in Moscow, which will soon be opened. Even before Ms. Gessen came on board, RFE/RL has fired a large number of its employees in Moscow who presumably will be replaced. News reports have linked her to this firing, but she denies that she played a significant part in the decision. And in a strange turn of events, President Putin reportedly met with Ms. Gessen.

BBG Watch will examine these issues in a series of commentaries to be published this week. Today we focus on Ms. Gessen’s reporting on her meeting with President Putin. In Part 2 and Part 3, we will examine security issues surrounding Mr. Korn’s decision to expand the RFE/RL Moscow bureau and to base RL’s Russian Service director in Russia. We will also examine the reported management turmoil at the RFE/RL headquarters in Prague under the new management team installed by Mr. Korn and will focus on the overall strategy for Russia being implemented by Mr. Korn and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) executive team in Washington.

Communications/ Press Releases, RFE/RL, September 24, 2012:
Steve Korn On Changes To RFE/RL's Radio Svoboda;

BBGWatcher 9/23/2012: Newly-selected director of Radio Liberty Russian Service Masha Gessen met with Putin, denies role in mass firing of RL staffers;

VOA News 9/22/201: US Broadcaster to Cease Some Moscow Radio Services;

The Moscow Times 9/24/2012: Kicked Off Airwaves: RL Rethinks Strategy;

Interfax 9/21/2012: Radio Liberty to stop medium-wave broadcasts in Russia on Nov. 10;

RIANovosti MOSCOW, 9/21/2012: Radio Liberty to Stop AM Broadcasting in Moscow;
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