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Letter from RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly

RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly issued the following letter in response to the podcast "Hearts and Minds Media" published in April 2023 by the Columbia Journalism Review.

After cooperating fully with the Columbia Journalism Review on the podcast “Hearts and Minds Media,” published this past April, it is regrettable that the final publication includes critical misleading comments – many of which were repeated in a subsequent interview – regarding the work of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Especially concerning is the piece’s reliance on a single source, an individual who has never worked at RFE/RL or had any involvement with the company’s editorial or risk management processes, who made uncorroborated claims about RFE/RL’s process for safeguarding our journalists. Perhaps most alarming was his insinuation that RFE/RL bears responsibility for the death of our esteemed Ukrainian colleague Vira Hyrych, who was killed when a Russian missile struck her apartment building while she was on a personal trip visiting family one year ago. CJR failed to give RFE/RL the opportunity to respond to this outrageous allegation. In fact, the State Department’s Inspector General recently commended us for the steps we have taken to keep our Ukrainian journalists safe despite the challenging environment in Ukraine. RFE/RL prioritizes the safety and security of all of our journalists and allegations to the contrary are false.

The podcast repeatedly conflates the work and history of RFE/RL and Voice of America, two organizations with different missions and structures. The listener is thus left with a confused sense of each networks’ respective roles and relationship to the U.S. government. Despite statements by the podcast’s author, it is false to state that no protections have been put in place to protect the editorial independence of the networks following the actions of USAGM CEO Michael Pack. The International Broadcasting Act has been modified twice since the Fall of 2020 to add additional safeguards.

The author repeatedly refers to RFE/RL journalists as “government journalists,” which is false given that RFE/RL is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and its journalists are not employed by the U.S. government. The podcast also mischaracterizes RFE/RL’s mission as spreading American values. RFE/RL is a surrogate broadcaster reporting on local issues. We are grateful for the continued bipartisan support we receive from the U.S. Congress for our work, but using the slurs of authoritarian regimes against journalists trying to report in restrictive environments is disgraceful and beneath the Columbia Journalism Review.

Many of RFE/RL’s journalists reporting in countries without established media norms look up to the Columbia Journalism Review as a model of journalistic standards. Those standards were not met on this occasion.

  • Jamie Fly, President and CEO, RFE/RL