BBG Watch Commentary EXCLUSIVE
Four Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin Service journalists have expressed concerns that their personal security has been jeopardized as a result of what they allege is a botched-up and retaliatory investigation launched against them by VOA’s senior leaders and VOA’s parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), during which — the four journalists said — a citizen of China was provided with their personal information.
These four journalists are U.S. federal employees with security clearances. The U.S. international media outreach agency they work for is funded by U.S. taxpayers ($740 million in FY 2017). The investigations ordered by the agency, during which a Chinese citizen was allegedly given access to personal information on five U.S. federal government employees, are also being charged to U.S. taxpayers.
The senior management of their government agency placed five VOA Mandarin Service journalists on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation in the case of the Chinese whistleblower Guo Wengui’s April 19 live TV and live Facebook interview which was shortened on the orders of senior management despite protests from the journalists.
While the frontline VOA Mandarin Service journalists resisted the senior management’s decision to shorten the Guo Wengui interview — Voice of America director Amanda Bennett’s and senior staff’s decision which seriously damaged VOA’s reputation in China and produced thousands of angry and sarcastic comments from Chinese social media users — only the frontline journalists were the ones to be placed by her on leave while senior officials who together with her made the decision to shorten the interview continue working as usual.
Even though the agency-ordered investigation has not been completed, Bennett has already accused publicly the VOA Mandarin Service chief Dr. Sasha Gong of not agreeing with “universally accepted journalistic principles.” Bennett denies that she made the decision to shorten the interview in response to pressure from the Chinese government and insists that she was only trying to uphold high standards of journalism.
In a letter to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the four out of five journalists being investigated alleged that one of the outside investigators hired by the agency, whom they describe as a “pro-China businessman,” “brought his own son and a Chinese assistant (Chinese citizen…) to the interview sessions.” “They are provided with our personal information, including our real names and personal background,” the four VOA journalists wrote. (One of the five journalists is reported to be suffering from an illness.)
“Such ‘unmask’ of VOA journalists with Chinese origin, who normally use pennames at work for security reasons, is highly irregular and retaliatory,” the four VOA Mandarin Service journalists also wrote in their letter to the BBG Board.
They noted that “as many VOA journalists who came from authoritarian countries and left their families behind, most of us use pennames at work.”
“We are afraid that our personal safety is further jeopardized by BBG/VOA,” the four VOA Mandarin Service journalists said in their letter.
The letter was addressed to the members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors who under new legislation will only serve in an advisory role once a new BBG director and CEO is nominated and confirmed by the Senate. Current BBG director and CEO John F. Lansing, who is not a presidential appointee and has not been confirmed by the Senate, strongly defends VOA director Amanda Bennett and claims that the agency has been well managed under his watch. Both Lansing and Bennett were appointed to their current agency positions during the Obama administration.
Bennett told CNBC reporter that one of the investigators who, according to the four VOA Mandarin Service journalists, “works closely with the Chinese government, as his company states clearly in their website,” is, in Bennett’s words as quoted by CNBC, “probably as neutral and respected and ethical as anybody in the field.”
The four VOA Mandarin Service journalists are calling for a completely independent investigation of the Guo Wengui interview which would look into the actions of the senior management.
Also calling for a congressional investigation is Ann Noonan, the Executive Director of the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) — an independent and nonpartisan NGO.
ANN NOONAN, CUSIB: “It [independent congressional investigation] must also involve a call for transparency, and a careful review of any possible business dealings or investments in China of spouses or close relatives of upper management at VOA and the BBG to root out whether or not there are any possible conflicts of interest between business investments in China and the VOA Charter.”
Featured Image: Chinese Americans stage a protest in May 2017 against censorship at the Voice of America by placing two large funeral wreaths and carrying a mock coffin in front of the VOA building in Washington, DC.