U.S. scholars defend Voice of America Chinese journalists

BBG Watch Commentary

A group of some of the most prominent U.S. scholars specializing in China studies has sent a letter in defense of Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin Service journalists who are being threatened with firing by VOA’s senior management over the April 19, 2017 live VOA interview with Chinese businessman whistleblower Guo Wengui which was cut short on orders of VOA director Amanda Bennett.

In defending her decision, Amanda Bennett stated that the live interview did not meet universally accepted journalistic standards.

Critics have accused VOA of caving in to pressure from the Chinese communist government which threatened VOA with retaliation if the interview were to air. Amanda Bennett, her deputy Sandy Sugawara, and their boss, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John F. Lansing vehemently deny that they acted in response to pressure from Beijing and the Chinese Embassy in Washington. There were reports of phone calls between the Chinese Embassy and VOA management.

Chinese Americans and other supporters of media freedom protest against censorship in front of the Voice of America building in Washington, D.C. in May 2017.

Social media sites have received thousands of comments from Chinese web users criticizing Voice of America’s leadership and defending VOA Mandarin Service journalists who conducted the shortened interview and wanted it to continue. VOA China Branch journalists told Bennett that Voice of America’s credibility in China has been seriously damaged by the senior management‘s decision to shorten the interview. Chinese Americans have staged protests in front of the VOA building in Washington, DC and have contributed money to the legal defense fund for the VOA Chinese journalists.

Three VOA Mandarin Service journalists, including service chief Dr. Sasha Gong, whom senior management put on administrative leave with pay, are challenging the proposed BBG/VOA decision to fire them. Two other VOA Mandarin Service broadcasters who were also put on administrative leave have been subsequently allowed to return to work.

In a letter addressed to Broadcasting Board of Governors Chairman Kenneth Weinstein and BBG CEO John F. Lansing, U.S. scholars wrote: “We the undersigned members of the China studies community in the United States are writing to express our deep concern about the recent proposed firing of three Chinese journalists by the Voice of America (VOA).”

 

According to a copy of the letter, it was signed by Yongyi Song, Professor and Librarian, California State University, Los Angeles;   Andrew J. Nathan, Professor of Political Science, Columbia University, New York;    Minxin Pei, Tom and Margot Pritzker ’72 Professor of Government,Claremont McKenna College, California;     Perry Link, Chancellorial Chair Professor for Innovation in Teaching Across Disciplines, University of California, Riverside;     MacFarquhar, Roderick, Leroy B. Williams Professor of History and Political Science, Emeritus,Harvard University;     James Wen, Professor of Economics, Trinity College, Connecticut;     Zhengmin Ding, Professor of Physics, Normandale Community College, Minnesota;    Tijie Cheng, Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, Macau University, Macau, China;     Zehao Zhou, Faculty Librarian, York College of Pennsylvania;     Maochun Yu, China Scholar, Maryland.

Their letter states that they “have been watching and reading the work of these journalists and we believe that they are among the best in the Chinese journalistic community worldwide.”  The U.S. scholars added: “We applaud their courage in conducting the interview despite what was reported to be great pressure from the Chinese government not to do so.”

The letter also says that “To fire three of the best journalists of VOA will only please the Chinese authority and aggravate the dismay of Americans like us who pay attention to U.S.-China relations.”

VOA Director Amanda Bennett has not commented recently in public on the Guo Wengui interview incident, but the VOA management had released earlier the following statement with her approval:

VOICE OF AMERICA MANAGEMENT: “On the matter of the Guo Wengui interview:
 
We cannot comment on ongoing personnel matters to protect the privacy of the individuals involved. However, what we can share is that the Broadcasting Board of Governors retained Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani, LLP, to conduct an investigation into the April 2017 VOA Mandarin service broadcast of an interview with Chinese dissident Guo Wengui. As part of the process, Gordon Rees also retained Mark Feldstein of the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill School of Journalism to conduct an independent investigation of the journalistic practices used in the April 2017 VOA Mandarin service broadcast. The investigations found that VOA management’s actions were not in any way driven by pressure from the Chinese government, but instead were intended to enforce best industry-wide journalistic practices. While we cannot release the investigations, as is the usual practice in these cases, copies of the documents relied upon have been provided to the people in question.”

One of the U.S. scholars said that as of January 12, they have not received a reply to their letter from the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Professor Yongyi Song said that the signatories hope the U.S. agency’s management will resolve the crisis quickly in an amicable manner and allow VOA Chinese journalists to return to work. He said that each day the current crisis at VOA continues, it only pleases the government in Beijing.

Former Voice of America director Robert R. Reilly, who had served during the administration of President George W. Bush, also came to the defense of VOA Mandarin Service journalists in a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal in response to the letter to the editor from VOA director Amanda Bennett, an Obama administration holdover official.

The bipartisan U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission created by the United States Congress has published its findings on Guo Wengui and Voice of America. The commission’s report raises questions about U.S. corporate investments in China which may apply to some Broadcasting Board of Governors and VOA officials.

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January 9, 2018

CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, LOS ANGELES UNIVERSITY LIBRARY

Mr. Kenneth Weinstein (Chairman, BBG) Mr. John Lansing, CEO
Broadcasting Board of Governors
330 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20237
Dear Mr. Weinstein & Mr. Lansing:

We the undersigned members of the China studies community in the United States are writing to express our deep concern about the recent proposed firing of three Chinese journalists by the Voice of America (VOA).

According to media reports, VOA has proposed to fire the three VOA Mandarin journalists, Sasha Gong, Dong Fang, and Li Su, for their involvement in an interview with Mr. Guo Wengui, a businessman from the People’s Republic of China. For years, we have been watching and reading the work of these journalists and we believe that they are among the best in the Chinese journalistic community worldwide. For instance, the program of “Revealing State Secrets” they conducted has received about 40 million viewers on YouTube, which may be the highest click-rate among all VOA Mandarin programs.

The Guo Wengui exposé of corruption and abuse of power within the Chinese communist leadership has been controversial, but undeniably was of high news value at the time the three journalists conducted their interview. We applaud their courage in conducting the interview despite what was reported to be great pressure from the Chinese government not to do so. The fact that the interview was cut off after a little more than one hour suggests to us that there was either disagreement or miscommunication between the journalists and management over the duration of the interview. In light of their distinguished records and superior contributions, we believe that firing the three journalists would be an excessive punishment for such disagreement or miscommunication.

In the past two decades, with its burgeoning economic power and heavy-handed exertion of influence, the Chinese government has been gaining political influence around the world, and even within the United States at the expense of our liberty. American scholars and journalists are routinely denied visas to China if they dare to criticize the Chinese political system. For funding from or access to China, many academics, academic

5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90032-8300 (323) 343-3950 FAX: (323) 343-5600 http://www.calstatela.edu/library/

CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, LOS ANGELES UNIVERSITY LIBRARY

institutions, and publishers have acceded to Chinese government demands at great cost to academic freedom.

To fire three of the best journalists of VOA will only please the Chinese authority and aggravate the dismay of Americans like us who pay attention to U.S.-China relations. We thus request you to undertake a fresh investigation of the situation within the broad perspective we have outlined here. We hope this fresh look will lead to a reversal of the reported decision to fire the three journalists.

The following individuals support this petition (signed by e-mails): Yongyi Song, Professor and Librarian, California State University, Los Angeles

Phone: […]; E-mail: […]

Andrew J. Nathan, Professor of Political Science, Columbia University, New York

Minxin Pei, Tom and Margot Pritzker ’72 Professor of Government, Claremont McKenna College, California

Perry Link, Chancellorial Chair Professor for Innovation in Teaching Across Disciplines, University of California, Riverside.

MacFarquhar, RoderickLeroy B. Williams Professor of History and Political Science, Emeritus, Harvard University

James Wen, Professor of Economics, Trinity College, Connecticut

Zhengmin Ding, Professor of Physics, Normandale Community College, Minnesota

Tijie Cheng, Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, Macau University, Macau, China

Zehao Zhou, Faculty Librarian, York College of Pennsylvania

Maochun Yu, China Scholar, Maryland

5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90032-8300 (323) 343-3950 FAX: (323) 343-5600 http://www.calstatela.edu/library/

CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, LOS ANGELES UNIVERSITY LIBRARY

5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90032-8300 (323) 343-3950 FAX: (323) 343-5600 http://www.calstatela.edu/library/

 
 
 

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1 Comment

  1. XianKunY

    Thanks to Scholars for your courage and voice about the VOA incident!

    VOA management led by Amanda Bennett has showed us how facts could be manipulated in an awkward way; how taxpayers’ money could be wasted…; how honest and hardworking journalists could be treated badly in front of millions … for promoting American values from American soil; how communist virus could deteriorate the United States of America!

    Action is needed … [under] US Law!

    Reply

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