BBG Watch Media Commentary
The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong English-language newspaper, has reported on five Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin Service staffers being put on administrative leave while the management of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which is in charge of VOA, conducts an investigation into the Guo Wengui interview incident.
None of the upper-level VOA managers who had ordered the Guo Wengui live interview on April 19 to be cut short, including VOA director Amanda Bennett and VOA deputy director Sandy Sugawara, has been put on administrative leave.
Those who have been suspended by the agency’s upper management are lower-level Chinese-speaking managers, editors and rank-and-file employees in the VOA Mandarin Service, including service chief Sasha Gong Xiaoxia. South China Morning Post reported that Scott Stearns, managing editor of the VOA Africa Division, will be the acting Mandarin Service chief until further notice.
The term used by the VOA management to describe these suspensions is “Administrative Leave while the Agency conducts an investigation.” Suspended employees “will continue to receive full salary and benefits and will remain on Administrative Leave until further notice,” a letter sent by the VOA management to the employees said.
READ MORE: Staff ‘suspended’ at Voice of America after interview with fugitive tycoon Guo Wengui – Broadcaster says decision based on journalistic principles – not pressure from the US or China, South China Morning Post, May 2, 2017.
ALSO READ: Voice of America management suspends 5 VOA China journalists, BBG Watch, May 1, 2017.
ALSO READ: Voice of America director cut short Guo Wengui live interview, BBG Watch, May 1, 2017.
Chinese Americans, former Chinese dissidents, Chinese students and media freedom activists in the Washington, DC area staged a demonstration last week in front of the Voice of America building near the Capital Hill. They were protesting against the decision of VOA’s upper management to cut short a live interview with Chinese businessman whistleblower Guo Wengui while he was discussing evidence of corruption among Communist Party officials in China.
The suspended VOA Mandarin Service journalists had resisted the management’s decision to cut short the live interview as potentially damaging to VOA’s reputation and credibility in China. They only complied with orders from the VOA director under a strong protest.
As predicted by the suspended journalists, VOA’s reputation in China has been greatly damaged as a result of the VOA upper management’s actions to cut short the greatly anticipated three-hour long live interview on TV and social media which promised to expose widespread corruption among high-level Chinese Communist Party government officials.
Critics of the U.S. agency’s upper management blame BBG CEO John F. Lansing and VOA director Amanda Bennett for plunging U.S. international media outreach into managerial chaos which led to multiple programming failures at the Voice of America in recent months. These crises have been caused, according to critics such as the independent Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) by the lack of proper leadership and proper oversight.
BBG CEO John F. Lansing denied that VOA management shortened the live interview in response to pressure from the Chinese government, but many in China are convinced Chinese government’s threats played a major role in VOA management’s decision and have lost faith in VOA.
The suspension of lower-level managers and employees while the upper management refuses to take responsibility for its failures is likely to have a further negative impact on the already record low employee morale and low employee confidence in senior leaders as measured by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Surveys (FEVS). The FEVS ratings for “Employee Engagement” and “Leadership” went down in the 2016 survey after John F. Lansing was placed in charge of the agency in September 2015.