MOSCOW, August 4 - RIA Novosti political commentator Peter Lavelle talks with Donald Jensen, director of communications at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, about claims and allegations related to the interview Andrei Babitsky recently made with self-proclaimed Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev.
RIA: Don, your name has been repeatedly mentioned in Russian media surrounding this controversial interview. Why?
Donald Jensen: As Director of Communications at RFE/RL, I am responsible for the organization's outreach efforts -- to the press, academia and the policy community. RFE/RL considers its very popular English-language news and analytical products to be outreach products, so I am publisher of those as well. In this case, I was simply acting as press spokesman for RFE/RL.
RIA: From what you know, where does Andrei Babitsky work? Media reports mention Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Does he work for both?
DJ: Andrei is an employee of RFE/RL. He does not work for Voice of America.
RIA: Aren't government employees prohibited from selling/giving their materials to commercial U.S. organizations such as ABC?
DJ: Andrei Babitsky is not a government employee. RFE/RL is an independent, nonprofit corporation funded by the U.S. government. We have a Board of Governors, which oversees our operations and acts as a firewall separating us from the U.S. government.
The Voice of America, by contrast, is an agency of the U.S. government.
RIA: Isn't it true that content from RFE/RL, VOA, etc. are prohibited from being broadcast in the U.S. by law?
DJ: Yes, but in this case, ABC broadcasted the material, which Andrei Babitsky took on his time with his own camera.
RIA: Wrongly, you have been associated with ABC News in Russian media (specifically by Kommersant). What does this tell you about how some elements in Russia's media are reacting to this story?
DJ: On July 30, Kommersant published a story on the interview, which erroneously identified me as a spokesman for ABC and then proceeded to misquote what I told them in an interview. There is no need to speculate why this distortion occurred or comment on the Russian media reaction more generally. It is simply bad journalism and they should print a correction.
RIA: Does RFE/RL have a position on the Babitsky interview with Basayev sanctioned by ABC News?
DJ: RFE/RL's position has not changed. Andrei Babitsky was not on assignment for RFE/RL when he took the interview. He took it on his own time, as I said, with his own camera. RFE/RL has not aired the interview and is considering what use, if any, to make of it. -0-