US-based Radio Liberty gone with the wind in Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks serious about clamping down on foreign-funded non-government organizations (NGO), foreign-funded programs, and media houses that have direct financial support fr

US-based Radio Liberty gone with the wind in Russia


Russian President Vladimir Putin looks serious about clamping down on foreign-funded non-government organizations (NGO), foreign-funded programs, and media houses that have direct financial support from the United States of America or through any US project working in Europe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed in July a law forcing non-governmental organizations engaged in political activity with foreign financing to be classed as “foreign agents.” This law was not taken very seriously by western organizations although the new law is due to come into force in November 2012. Under the new legislation, NGOs would have to publish a biannual report on their activities and carry out an annual financial audit. Failure to comply with the law could result in four-year jail sentences and/or fines of up to 300,000 rubles (US$9,200).

This new law showed its teeth on September 19, when the Russian government declared that all activities of USAID “must be halted from October 1 in Russia.” Russia accused that the USAID agency was seeking to influence domestic politics, adding that the organization had until October 1 to halt all activities.

On Friday, news came that Radio Free Europe – Radio Liberty – will stop medium-wave broadcasting in Moscow on November 10 and will switch over to multimedia Internet broadcasting, said Yelena Glushkova, the head of the radio station’s Russian office.

Yelena Glushkova said the decision was due to the Russian law on mass media banning radio broadcasting in Russia by companies more than 5-percent owned by foreign individuals or legal entities.

“We are in that category of companies. As we have always observed Russian laws, we will continue to observe them in future,” Glushkova said, “We are working on a multimedia strategy, which means we will use the internet as the key radio broadcasting site,” she said.

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Glushkova said the radio station reduced staff due to the switchover to multimedia broadcasting. Masha Gessen, who on October 1 will become the director of the radio station’s Russian service, told media she has nothing to do with the dismissals. Radio Liberty is a broadcaster funded by US Congress. Its headquarters is in Prague. On July 4, 1950, Radio Free Europe (RFE) went on the air for the first time with a broadcast to communist Czechoslovakia from a studio in New York City’s Empire State Building. The station signed on with the pledge of delivering news “in the American tradition of free speech.” Today, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reaches nearly 20 million people in 28 languages and 21 countries including Russia, Belarus, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan using methods that feature more high-tech tools, e.g., proxy servers, client software, satellite signals, web encryptions, and firewalls. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last year during a visit to RFE/RL’s Prague headquarters, “RFE/RL is smart power. It represents everything we are trying to achieve.”

Russian rights groups feel threatened by these developments and Right-wing group “Memorial” said on Friday in a statement that it will not comply with the new law that is likely to class it as “a foreign agent.”

“Memorial will not take part in an action aimed at destroying Russian society, and will not distribute knowingly false data about itself. If [the authorities] demand that our organization be put on a list of foreign agents, we will oppose this, first of all in courts,” Memorial said in a statement, “We are a human rights organization,n and we will do everything to defend the law being guided by the law,” it said.

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