BBG Watch Media
As reported by the Washington Free Beacon, “Congress is preparing to ask the State Department inspector general to conduct an investigation into the Voice of America and whether it was pressured by China to halt a live broadcast of an exiled Chinese businessman.”
The same report by Bill Gertz, senior editor of the Washington Free Beacon, also notes that Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) “questioned VOA’s handling of the interview with the businessman, Guo Wengui, during Senate testimony Tuesday by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.”
THE WASHINGTON FREE BEACON: On the inspector general probe, the request for the probe is expected in the next few days. “Members of the House and Senate are in the process of putting together a formal request,” said one congressional aide.
Rubio expressed concerns about the decision by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the group that runs U.S. government radio broadcasting, to cut $4.5 million from the pro-democracy Radio Free Asia, effectively ending its Mandarin language broadcasts into China.
READ MORE: Congress Seeks IG Probe of VOA China Interview, Bill Gertz, The Washington Free Beacon, June 15, 2017.
The China scandal at BBG/VOA has embarrassed the Trump administration and resulted in a drastic drop in VOA’s credibility among its Chinese audience. Both Voice of America director Amanda Bennett and her immediate boss, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John Lansing were selected for their positions during the Obama administration and have yet been replaced by the Trump administration.
Featured image: VOA Mandarin Service chief Dr. Sasha Gong (left) placed on administrative leave with pay by VOA director Amanda Bennett (right) pending a full investigation of the Guo Wengui interview incident. According to the May 5th Voice of America statement distributed to staff by Amanda Bennett, “decisions regarding the interview with Guo Wengui were made by a group of senior VOA leaders led by director Amanda Bennett and included deputy director Sandy Sugawara, program director Kelu Chao, and East Asia division director Norm Goodman.” These VOA executives and managers were not placed on administrative leave.
VOA STATEMENT ON GUO WENGUI INTERVIEW
From: IBB Notices Admin
Sent: Friday, May 5, 2017 11:42:47 AM
To: IBB Notices Administration
Subject: VOA Statement on Guo Wengui Interview
As you may be aware, there has been a lot of attention to a recent interview conducted by VOA Mandarin. In response to media inquiries on the matter, the following statement was issued and also shared at a VOA Mandarin town hall earlier this week.
VOA Statement on Guo Wengui Interview
VOA Mandarin Service Chief Sasha Gong and four other Mandarin Service employees have been placed on administrative leave pending a full investigation. Scott Stearns, managing editor in the VOA Africa division, will be the acting Mandarin Service chief until further notice. The decisions regarding the interview with Guo Wengui were made by a group of senior VOA leaders led by director Amanda Bennett and included deputy director Sandy Sugawara, program director Kelu Chao, and East Asia division director Norm Goodman. At no time during the decision-making process was there any management consideration of not doing the interview, nor of cutting short an ongoing interview for any reason. The decisions were based on the journalistic principles of verification, balance and fairness that are standard industry practice and apply universally to all VOA services. There are no special exemptions for individual services to follow different practices. There was no input whatsoever from the U.S. government, nor would the firewall permit any such input. Pressure from the Chinese government played no role in any decision-making. VOA and the BBG have decades’-long histories of producing full fair and balanced journalism in the face of even the most extreme pressures.
Amanda Bennett, Director
330 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20237
END OF VOA STATEMENT
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) asked Secretary Rex Tillerson about the controversy surrounding the Voice of America interview with Chinese businessman turned whistleblower, Guo Wengui, which was cut short on orders of VOA director Amanda Bennett. She later placed VOA Mandarin Service chief Dr. Sasha Gong on administrative leave pending an investigation as to why Dr. Gong allegedly resisted the order to shorten the interview.
Four other VOA Mandarin Service journalists involved with the Guo Wengui interview were also placed on administrative leave by the VOA director. Four of them said that a series of internal investigations ordered by VOA’s parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, are designed to cover up the management’s wrongdoing. They also said that their personal information was released to a Chinese citizen during one of the BBG-ordered investigations. They said that “such ‘unmask’ of VOA journalists with Chinese origin, who normally use pennames at work, is highly irregular and retaliatory.”
Senator Rubio expressed a concern that geopolitical pressures from China may influence VOA’s ability to broadcast the truth and asked whether Secretary Tillerson would support an investigation by the Office of Inspector General (OIG). Secretary Tillerson said that he would support an OIG investigation of the VOA China interview controversy if it seems that something improver has occurred.
SENATOR RUBIO: I want to start with the Asian continent news today or yesterday about a $4.5 million cut to Radio Free Asia. That comes on the heels of what I hope you are aware of, an article in “The Wall Street Journal” from May 23rd about an interview in the Mandarin language broadcast with a Chinese investment tycoon. The Chinese government got very upset about this interview. They issued a red notice on Interpol to try to wrap him up. Then, there is a dispute within the Voice of America. This interview was cut short. The person who conducted the interview, Sasha Gong, who I believe was the head of the Mandarin broadcast, is on suspension. There is this fight internally. The first question, the combination of cuts and the interview, could you assure us here today that our efforts to improve relations with China have nothing to do with the budget cut and/or the directive that was given to this reporter to cut the interview short?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: I can confirm that to my knowledge, it had nothing to do with our relations with China.
SENATOR RUBIO: Would you be supportive of an OIG [Office of Inspector General] investigation into this dispute that’s occurring within that Branch between the head of the Voice of America and this particular reporter?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: I would like to get a greater understanding myself, but if it would seem there has been anything improperly done, we should call for one.
SENATOR RUBIO: The concern is we can not allow geopolitical pressures from China to influence our ability to broadcast the truth, particularly in that language, in Mandarin. Obviously, we want to understand whether that is what would happen or not.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Strongly agree. Strongly agree.
ALSO SEE: Voice of America ignores Senator Rubio on Cuba, BBG Watch, June 17, 2017
ALSO SEE: Voice of America Spanish Fails to Show Trump Cuba Speech Live, BBG Watch, June 16, 2017.
Two of “VOA Mandarin Five” journalists suspended with pay by Voice of America director Amanda Bennett showed great courage, dignity and strength in describing their ordeal over the shortened Guo Wengui interview controversy to members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) with the VOA director and BBG CEO John Lansing present in the room.
STATEMENT BY VOA MANDARIN SERVICE CHIEF DR. SASHA GONG TO BROADCASTING BOARD OF GOVERNORS ON GUO WENGUI INTERVIEW
JUNE 14, 2017
My name is Sasha Gong. I am one of the “Mandarin Five” who is placed on administrative leave. I first want to thank my colleagues who have been supporting us all along. As we often say, you don’t know how many friends you have until you are in need. Thank you. I am proud of you. I love you.
I started listening to VOA when I was fifteen. In 1977, when I was in a Chinese jail, my interrogators asked if I listened to “enemy radio.” It was a criminal offense. I answered: Voice of America. I love my work here. I live for VOA’s mission to promote freedom. I am willing to die for the mission.
I am very glad that Senator Rubio asked Secretary Tillerson to launch an OIG investigation into the VOA Guo Wengui interview incident. I am speaking for all my colleagues – five of us currently in administrative leave – that we will do our best to help the investigation and to find out the truth. I believe that Senator Rubio, whose family came from communist Cuba, shares our belief in democracy, freedom, and truth.
STATEMENT BY VOA MANDARIN JOURNALIST HUCHEN ZHANG TO BROADCASTING BOARD OF GOVERNORS ON GUO WENGUI INTERVIEW
JUNE 14, 2017
My name is Huchen Zhang, and I am a senior editor at VOA Mandarin Service. I have worked for VOA for 26 years and I believe I have served VOA honorably. Unfortunately, I am one of the five journalists who have been placed on administrative leave because of the Guo Wengui interview.
I would like to thank the Board for allowing us to attend this meeting and speak.
My heart is heavy that the whole thing has come to this stage. I am particularly sad about the damage that has occurred to the credibility and reputation of VOA, especially VOA Mandarin broadcasting. I believe the interview itself and the investigations afterwards could have been handled much differently.
I am encouraged by the exchange between Senator Rubio and Secretary Tillerson yesterday. I hope the OIG investigation will proceed soon so that we can get to the bottom of things and the incident will be resolved in a timely and satisfactory manner.