BBG Watch Commentary
Former New York Times Beijing Bureau employee, Chinese journalist and political commentator Zhao Yan, told members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) today in Washington how his freelance contract with the Voice of America (VOA) as a political commentator for VOA Mandarin Service TV program to China was ended after he participated in a pro-free speech protest in front of the VOA building in the U.S. capital. Demonstrators, who were mostly Chinese Americans, were demanding answers from BBG and VOA leaders as to why they had ordered a live TV and social media interview with Chinese billionaire businessman turned whistleblower Guo Wengui to be shortened. VOA management’s decision has caused a major damage to VOA’s reputation among its Chinese audience.
With VOA director Amanda Bennett, who had issued the order to shorten the live Guo Wengui interview for what she said were purely journalistic reasons, listening at the same table, Zhao Yan told BBG members that he had participated in the freedom of the press protest in front of the Voice of America building in Washington, DC. He said that the demonstration was organized after VOA and BBG management had failed to provide answers as to why and how the decision to shorten the Guo Wengui interview was made. Zhao Yan also told the BBG board that after he took part in the free speech protest, his freelance contract as a political commentator for the VOA Mandarin Service TV program to China was ended.
Several days after the interview, the VOA director placed five VOA Mandarin Service staff journalists, including service chief Dr. Sasha Gong, on administrative leave with pay while VOA managers who had made the decision to shorten the interview continue to work.
Zhao Yan told the BBG board, the Voice of America director Amanda Bennett and other BBG and VOA executives that “the truth is the life of news.” He said that his right of free speech in America was denied when his freelance contract was ended by the Voice of America after he had participated in a peaceful pro-free media protest. During the protest, Chinese American demonstrators staged a mock funeral for VOA, carried a mock coffin and placed two large mock funeral wreaths of mostly white flowers in front of the VOA building in Washington, DC. Later VOA management questioned an experienced and popular VOA Mandarin Service TV host about why she had worn a white flower during one of her VOA TV programs to China.
Ann Noonan, Executive Director for the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) also spoke at the open BBG board meeting about the VOA Guo Wengui interview incident and again called for both congressional and Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigations.
Ann Noonan urged all BBG Governors “to insist that BBG and VOA management discontinue any and all intimidating practices against their workers.” “This includes intimidating staff at meetings,” Ann Noonan said.
CUSIB EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR ANN NOONAN
CUSIB has a strong message today: Don’t cut VOA Cantonese Service. The democracy and freedom of press situation in Hong Kong is much worse than last year. For the first time in several decades, political prisoners are being sentenced and put in jail in HK, people in HK need to know from the US government about our position and support.
VOA’s soft power represents the American people and our government. For a long time, people in HK have relied upon VOA’s daily radio broadcasting and weekly TV program. These need to expand, especially the TV program. Since the Service Chief retired on July 1, VOA Cantonese needs to hire a new service chief ASAP.
CUSIB re-emphasizes the need for Congress to hold immediate hearings and investigate the mismanagement of the BBG and VOA prior to, during and following the interview that took place on April 19th, of Chinese billionaire turned whistleblower, Guo Wengui, which was abruptly cut during a widely publicized live interview.
We further request for the State Department’s Office of Inspector General to investigate all parties concerned with that incident, including VOA’s top management. We also call for an investigation by a law enforcement agency to find out if China has been able to exercise its influence within VOA, especially the East Asia and Pacific Division. These investigations must include any profits and investments that may have resulted from any possible conflicts of interest by anyone in BBG or VOA management, their spouses, or any BBG Governors.
The five senior VOA Mandarin Service journalists who were placed on administrative leave four months ago remain on administrative leave with no hope of returning to work. Despite the fact that none have been charged with wrongdoing, they are still paying for their own attorneys to represent them. Is it true that VOA handed out personal information about these employees to an investigation company with a foreign national in China?
In response to reports about one VOA reporter who wore a white flower, like this one, on April 20, and who was interrogated by BBG Human Resources for wearing the flower, we urge all BBG Governors to insist that BBG and VOA management discontinue any and all intimidating practices against their workers. This includes intimidating staff at meetings.
CUSIB remains concerned about the selection of the last two Acting Service Chiefs of Mandarin Services since May 1. Do either of these men even speak Mandarin? Is it true that at least one story that was to be aired and could not unless there was a pro-China expert on the show to balance out the story? Is this the new rule? Can you imagine anyone at VOA insisting that the Tiananmen Square Massacre story could not be aired unless they had a pro-China expert to defend their nation’s goals?
To echo the words of the late CUSIB Board Member, Harry Wu: “We all want a peaceful and prosperous China that respects human rights, because this will benefit both China and America.”
VOA should realize that in recent months, China’s government has strengthened its control of speech and the Internet. They have asked major computer companies, including Microsoft and Apple to restrict and remove virtual private networks.
Does VOA realize the consequences of China’s control of its ethnic minorities, especially in the Xingjiang Urumqi Autonomous Region? Those residents now must bring their computers, hard drives, mobile phones and other devices to the police for inspection or they will be punished.