BBG – USAGM Watch Commentary
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called recently for a leadership change at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) “to perform its function in a way that is important and noble,” but the USAGM and the Voice of America (VOA) senior management team selected in 2015 and 2016 during the previous administration continues to fire experienced, award-winning and respected longtime VOA Mandarin Service journalists whom they accuse of not following the orders of senior leaders regarding a broadcast to China while the affected journalists claim that the orders came too late, were confusing and could seriously damage VOA’s reputation and credibility. After the earlier firing of VOA Mandarin Service chief Dr. Sasha Gong, a senior USAGM manager, who is an accountant by training and reports to USAGM CEO John Lansing as his Acting Deputy Director, informed this week two other “VOA Mandarin 5” journalists, who have been suspended with pay since may 2017, that they would be removed from Federal employment effective May 17, 2019.
Without these experienced journalists present and some of their colleagues stripped of editorial powers, the VOA Mandarin Service recently censored a key part of Secretary Pompeo’s foreign policy address when it failed to report his remarks that “…the Chinese Communist Party has detained more than one million Chinese Muslims in labor camps, and it uses coercion and corruption as its primary tools of statecraft” while reporting briefly on milder criticism of the Chinese government in other parts of his speech. Other USAGM media services completely ignored Secretary Pompeo’s foreign policy address.
The independent NGO Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB.org) released a statement expressing grave concern over the latest actions taken by the USAGM leadership against VOA Mandarin Service journalists. CUSIB strongly condemned the latest firing of two VOA Chinese broadcasters. CUSIB called it “an assault on free press made especially harmful to VOA’s and America’s image in China and everywhere else as it came only a few days after USAGM senior management led by USAGM CEO and Director John Lansing and VOA Director Amanda Bennett publicly celebrated the World Press Freedom Day.”
One of the VOA Mandarin Service TV/internet/social media journalists fired by the USAGM/VOA senior management this week personally witnessed the Tiananmen Massacre, has worked for the Voice of America for 26 years and received 10 Superior Accomplishment Awards, Excellence in Programming Awards, and other commendations.
The other VOA Mandarin Service journalist fired this week by the senior agency management has been working in journalism since 1981, has a Master’s degree in journalism and a Ph.D. in mass communication from an American university and is co-author of a book on international broadcasting systems. He has received more than a dozen VOA programming awards and was VOA Gold Award Employee.
Both VOA Mandarin Service journalists fired this week are U.S. citizens who have dedicated their lives and took personal risks to bring uncensored news to China. One of the fired journalists developed heath problems while he was reporting for VOA from China under difficult conditions made more dangerous by Chinese secret police surveillance.
The two fired VOA Mandarin Service employees and their family members in China have been threatened by the Chinese communist secret police. They tried to keep the interview with a Chinese whistleblower be broadcast according to a previously made announcement in order not to appear to cave in to threats which the Chinese government made against VOA.
Despite the employee’s honest motivations and efforts to avoid an appearance of censorship by the senior management’s last minute confusing orders to abruptly shorten the interview, the current USAGM/VOA leadership put in place in 2015/2016 considers the two VOA Mandarin Service journalists fired this week unfit to work for the Voice of America and the Federal government. The fired VOA Mandarin Service journalists can still appeal the USAGM senior management’s decision to other U.S. government agencies which protect Federal employees from discrimination and unfair treatment.
It is well known that some of the past and a few current BBG/USAGM/VOA officials have had corporate or family business interests in China although they would deny that such financial links are inappropriate for them keeping their agency positions or would in any way influence their decision regarding U.S. government media outreach.
Since it does not seem likely that the USAGM senior management will be reformed soon, the “VOA Mandarin 5” deserve full support in this difficult time from their Voice of America colleagues, other journalists, press freedom organizations and anyone who cares about free press in China and in other countries struggling with political repression, corruption and media censorship.
Disclosure: CUSIB co-founder and co-director Ted Lipien is also a co-founder and supporter of BBG – USAGM Watch.
END OF BBG – USAGM WATCH COMMENTARY
The Committee for US International Broadcasting (CUSIB.org) has released the following statement in response to the US Agency for Global Media’s (USAGM) latest firing of two “VOA Mandarin 5” Voice of America (VOA) Chinese Branch journalists who for decades have brought uncensored news to China and in the past had been praised and received awards for their outstanding work and service. According to the information CUSIB received, USAGM chief accountant and Acting Deputy Director Grant Turner informed by mail two experienced VOA Mandarin Service journalists who have been suspended with pay since May 2017 that he had decided to remove them from Federal Service effective May 17, 2019. The two employees can appeal the removal decision to one of the following U.S. government agencies: the U.S. Merits Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel, or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
For Immediate Release
May 18, 2019
“We should recall that 30 years ago, an expression and voice of democracy was brutally crushed in Tiananmen Square. We should recall that Voice of America was one of the global witnesses that broadcast and preserved a record of those tragic events where thousands of Chinese students were crushed with tanks as they peacefully advocated for democracy and human rights. We should also recall that since that time the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has applied all of its resources to suppressing any account or acknowledgement of this government sponsored atrocity.
And now, we should acknowledge that VOA will submit to this CCP tactic of suppression and censorship when confronted with news and events that it finds embarrassing or that reveals it oppression.
It was in this setting that vague threats to VOA reporters in China preceded the widely-advertised Guo Wengui interview with a scheduled 3-hour slot on April 19, 2017. And then, a call to cancel, mid-interview took place.
Since then, the Agency has directed its self-righteous indignation towards the remaining members of the ‘VOA Mandarin 5,’ those in the trenches who shared the mission of VOA as a voice for the United States and the voiceless in their homeland and who are at the forefront of exposing in news reports the tactics of the CCP.
The Agency must acknowledge the consequences for the morale of those reporters and brave VOA China Service employees still in the trenches in hostile territory that the organization will abandon them at the first hint of CCP or other oppressive governmental tactics aimed at censoring and suppressing the news of today in China and elsewhere.
Instead of labeling VOA China Service employees as disobedient when they stay with the story, the Agency should have their backs.
The latest firing of two ‘VOA Mandarin 5’ experienced, award-winning and dedicated Voice of America journalists is an assault on free press made especially harmful to VOA’s and America’s image in China and everywhere else as it came only a few days after USAGM senior management led by USAGM CEO and Director John Lansing and VOA Director Amanda Bennett publicly celebrated the World Press Freedom Day.”
The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) is an independent, nongovernmental organization which supports free flow of uncensored news from the United States to countries without free media.
For further information, please contact Ann Noonan at (646) 251-6069 or Ted Lipien at (415) 793-1642.