FreeMediaOnline.org & Free Media Online Blog, December 4, 2008, San Francisco – Former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, the poet Natalia Gorbanevskaia, Andrei Sakharov’s widow Elena Bonner, French philosopher André Glucksmann, and other French writers, including Thierry Wolton, Alain Besançon, Michel Aucouturier, Stéphane Courtois and Marie Mendras, signed a petition along with more than 500 others (as of Dec. 4, 2008) against the planned termination of the Russian program of Radio France Internationale (RFI). Online petition – За сохранение радиовещания RFI на русском языке
The French news agency AFP reported that the petitioners are calling on the relevant French authorities to overturn this decision in order “to help maintain and strengthen democracy in Russia,” The petition stated that “human rights and freedom of speech are not respected in Russia today.” The petition signers recalled that Russian journalists sometimes face murder, as did Anna Politkovskaya, if they engage in investigative journalism. RFI management announced in October that it would cease broadcasting in six languages including German and Polish. Although broadcast transcripts will be available in Russian on Internet, the petition explained that the RFI website could be blocked by the Russian security services.
RFI’s decision to terminate Russian radio broadcasts follows a similar move last July by the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which ended the Voice of America Russian radio. The BBG is a bipartisan board which manages U.S. government-funded international broadcasts, including the Voice of America. VOA Russian broadcasts went off the air just 12 days before the Russian military units attacked Georgia. This decision was widely criticised as a major blunder by members of the U.S. Congress, public diplomacy experts, and media freedom organizations. The BBG also wanted to end VOA radio programs to Georgia and Ukraine. Those decisions were temporarily suspended after the Russian attack on Georgia.
As a result of the criticism, the BBG was forced to allow VOA to produce a half hour radio program, which is placed on the Internet Monday through Friday and rebroadcast on a medium wave frequency in Moscow. The BBG is also responsible for ending VOA Hindi radio programs to India, an action taken a few weeks before the terrorist attacks in Mumbai despite appeals from U.S. Congressmen who wanted these broadcasts to continue.
Ted Lipien, a former VOA acting associate director and president of the U.S.-based media freedom nonprofit organization, FreeMediaOnline.org, said that both the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors and the management of Radio France Internationale underestimate the extent of media freedom restrictions in Russia and the power that radio has in helping fight censorship. The Internet, while extremely useful, is insufficient and too risky when confronting determined enemies of press freedom, Lipien said.
FreeMediaOnline.org urges supporters of press freedom in Russia to sign the petition calling for keeping Radio France Internationale Russian radio broadcasts on the air: Online petition – За сохранение радиовещания RFI на русском языке