Fearful and silenced, anti-communist Voice of America journalists side with Mandarin 5 against VOA director

BBG Watch Commentary

In secret messages to BBG Watch, some of the remaining anti-communist journalists at U.S. tax-funded, U.S. government-managed Voice of America (VOA) express their fear and horror at the way the “VOA Mandarin Five” broadcasters have been treated by the senior management led by VOA Director Amanda Bennett and United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) CEO John F. Lansing.

Requesting anonymity to protect them from what they fear would be reprisals by managers, they strongly condemn senior management’s decision to fire VOA Mandarin Service chief, Dr. Sasha Gong, and to discipline other VOA China Branch journalists, referred to as “VOA Mandarin Five,” for disagreeing with what they believed was caving-in by VOA executives to demands of the Chinese government to cancel or censor a live VOA interview with Chinese whistleblower Guo Wengui, a widely publicized incident on April 19, 2017. Bennett denies that pressure from the Chinese government had any impact on her decisions with regard to the interview. VOA China Branch journalists deny charges leveled against them and plan to appeal against disciplinary actions.

One highly respected Voice of America broadcaster, who has worked for many years at VOA as a federal employee of the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM), formerly the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), and before that the former United States Information Agency (USIA), sent a message to BBG Watch expressing solidarity with Sasha Gong and other VOA Mandarin Five journalists. The author of the message is well known and admired at VOA and among outside journalists for award-winning and often cited reporting during the Cold War on human rights violations behind the iron curtain. The sender of the message has requested anonymity.

VOA Broadcaster: “The Voice of America has become an outlet for conveying propaganda by foreign governments–Communist, neo-Communist, and of other totalitarian forms. Dr. Gong has been an anti-communist and a strong voice against corruption, like very few at today’s VOA. Her firing has nothing to do with ‘insubordination’ and/or ‘violations’ of journalistic standards. So much for ‘exporting the First Amendment’ [phrase used by VOA Director Amanda Bennett in a Washington Post op-ed.] All top management should resign. Firing Dr. Gong is an international scandal. Director Amanda Bennett, her aides and other higher-ups are not capable of understanding the repercussions of their actions.
 
I know from direct observations how the interviews with corrupt foreign government officials are planned and conducted by other Voice of America foreign language services. Officials from these countries–all corrupt to the core–say what they have discussed with U.S. officials. Almost never, the Voice of America gets the U.S. side to make any statements or reports on findings of corruption among officials with whom some of these VOA executives, managers and reporters meet on their visits abroad and conduct ‘interviews.’ Some of them are the most corrupt politicians in their countries. So much for Amanda Bennett’s ‘vetting’ refrain.”

A recent independent study confirmed biased reporting and use of pro-Iranian regime propaganda by VOA’s Persian Service, but USAGM officials appointed during the Obama administration and still in charge of the agency dismissed these abuses as not “systematic.” Some managers and reporters whom critics accuse of bias and partisanship have been highly praised by Bennett.

SEE: Management confirms decision to fire VOA Mandarin chief Sasha Gong over Guo Wengui, BBG Watch, November 29, 2018.

 
Only one VOA China Branch broadcaster contacted BBG Watch to express approval for Amanda Bennett’s actions.

Comments on Chinese social media platforms have been overwhelmingly critical of the VOA director, her decision on the Guo Wengui interview and her decisions about the VOA Mandarin Five.

Another message sent to BBG Watch on behalf of a group of VOA China Branch journalists said:

USAGM Source: 100 VOA China Branch broadcasters led by the new chief–a favorite of the VOA director’s office, a man who is not of Chinese background, who does not speak Chinese and is not an expert on China (the first such chief in three decades)–often talk about the VOA Mandarin Five and Sasha Gong in quiet and secret conversations, as if in an occupied country. She paid the price for opposing the bureaucracy’s cultural colonialism and cronyism. The heavy toll of what was done to VOA Mandarin Five will have a lasting impact.

 
 
 

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