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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Firing Hurts Liberty's Credibility

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Last week, U.S.-funded Radio Liberty fired its Moscow bureau chief, Savik Shuster, apparently for refusing to stop appearing on an NTV soccer chat show in the wake of the station's takeover by Gazprom. Although Radio Liberty has refused to comment, Shuster read from his dismissal letter, which stated that the NTV job "constitutes a violation of RFE/RL professional code, the ethical foundation of our work, as well as the company's conflict of interest policy." The letter also argued that Shuster's appearances were "harmful to the public trust upon which RFE/RL credibility and effectiveness are based."

If Shuster's NTV appearances were the real reason for firing him, then it is Radio Liberty's management that is harming the station's credibility. After all, Shuster has been doing the show since 1998 and in all those years Radio Liberty never invoked its "conflict of interest policy." Doing so now strongly implies Radio Liberty's endorsement of NTV's former owner Vladimir Gusinsky and casts serious doubts over the station's objectivity.

Like Radio Liberty's recent decision to begin Chechen-language broadcasts (a decision that Shuster strenuously — and, we feel, correctly — opposed), this firing plays perfectly into the hands of those who claim that Radio Liberty is hostile to the Russian government and even a U.S. government propaganda tool.

Shuster's dismissal over this issue is extremely ironic. On the morning of Gazprom's April 14 takeover of NTV's studio, Shuster was one of the first on the scene — not as an NTV supporter, but as a journalist covering a crucial story. Television cameras captured him asking an NTV editor whether the channel's news program would cover the takeover, to which the editor — no doubt revealing more than she intended about who was calling the shots — replied, "I don't know." That the new NTV management still wants Shuster to appear speaks encouragingly of its integrity and stands in stark contrast to Radio Liberty's ill-considered action.

For nearly 20 years, Shuster has been acclaimed as a thoroughly professional and ethical journalist. His principled stand in this case reinforces this impression.

If the soccer show is the real reason for dismissing Shuster and if Radio Liberty is serious about its "professional code" and the "ethical foundation" of its work, it will reverse this unjust decision and apologize to Shuster for its poor judgment. If management is just using the show as an excuse to get rid of Shuster, then it ought to rethink just who is harming the station's credibility and undermining its public trust.