BBG Watch Commentary
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.
Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin Service chief, Dr. Sasha Gong, and VOA Mandarin Service Senior Editor, Huchen Zhang, spoke on June 14, 2017 at the open board meeting of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in Washington, DC. They are two of the “VOA Mandarin Five” journalists placed on administrative leave by VOA director Amanda Bennett. Ms. Bennett had made earlier her decision to shorten the live VOA Mandarin Service interview with Chinese whistleblower Guo Wengui broadcast by VOA until it was cut short on April 19, 2017. Shortening of the interview had resulted in a serious drop in VOA’s reputation and credibility in China. Amanda Bennett subsequently placed five VOA Mandarin Service journalists on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation. She accused Dr. Sasha Gong of not agreeing with universally accepted journalistic standards — an accusation Dr. Gong denies.
Dr. Gong and other VOA Mandarin Service journalists were opposed to the senior management’s attempts to shorten the Guo Wengui interview but were unsuccessful in getting the full interview to air as planned. On June 14, two of them — Dr. Sasha Gong and Huchen Zhang — spoke with courage, dignity and conviction about their commitment to VOA’s mission and getting the truth out about the Guo Wengui interview controversy. They both praised U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for tentatively agreeing with Senator Marco Rubio’s suggestion that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) conduct an independent investigation. Harvard-educated sociologist Dr. Sasha Gong was a political prisoner in China. She described being imprisoned and interrogated about listening to VOA when she was a young woman in China in the 1970s.
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.