BBG Watch Commentary
Former Voice of America (VOA) director Robert R. Reilly had his letter to the editor published in the Wall Street Journal, in which he defends five VOA Mandarin Service journalists under fire from current VOA director Amanda Bennett.
Reilly was VOA director from October 2001 to August 2002 during the George W. Bush administration. Bennett was selected for her current post during the Obama administration.
Gong, a well-respected journalist, is one of the five VOA Mandarin Service journalists put by Bennett on administrative leave with pay while being investigated by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). The Broadcasting Board of Governors is VOA’s parent federal agency headed by another Obama administration holdover John F. Lansing.
While the internal BBG investigation seems to be focused on the five frontline VOA Mandarin Service journalists, it was the decision of VOA director and several of her most senior managers to shorten a previously promoted interview with Chinese whistleblower businessman Guo Wengui which has produced an unprecedented drop in VOA’s reputation and credibility in China. None of the senior managers has been put on administrative leave. One of the most experienced VOA Mandarin Service reporters who is not under investigation by the management told Bennett that the damage to Voice of America reputation in China as a result of the management’s decision to shorten the Guo Wengui interview was “unbelievable” in its scope, with the VOA China Branch being “flooded with angry posts from our audience.”
The BBG investigation seems seriously biased and flawed. One of BBG-hired outside contractor-investigators for the VOA Mandarin Five case is believed to have done extensive private business in communist China over many years and was reported to have an assistant who is a Chinese citizen. The assistant was reportedly present during some of the investigative meetings with some of the VOA Mandarin Five journalists.
Several high-level Obama administration era Broadcasting Board of Governors appointees and at least one key executive selected by them are also reported to have multimillion dollar corporate or family business interests in countries like China or Russia. In such countries under authoritarian rule, Americans cannot afford to antagonize government officials if they want their firms to make money while one of BBG’s mission goals is to promote freedom and democracy, which includes exposing corruption by government officials.
In his letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, Robert Reilly wrote that as a former director of the Voice of America, he “was surprised at the current VOA director’s May 26 letter upbraiding the performance of her Mandarin language service chief.” He noted that Amanda Bennett said that Sasha Gong didn’t uphold ‘the journalistic principles . . . [that] apply universally to all VOA services’.”
“In my 11 years of experience at VOA,” Robert Reilly wrote, “I am unaware of anything like this having happened before.” “It is equally strange that five members of the Mandarin service have been suspended, pending an investigation,” Reilly added.
Reilly pointed out that to his knowledge, none of the previous violations of the VOA Charter during the current VOA director’s tenure have resulted in personnel suspensions or investigations. In his February 18, 2017 Wall Street Journal op-ed, “How to Make the Voice of America Come Through Loud and Clear,” Reilly had described some of the most egregious recent violations of the VOA Charter. A recent disclosure also shows that the current Obama administration management of the Voice of America has allowed for a long period of time posting of comments on VOA’s official Facebook pages which call for killing and other forms of violence against gays.
Reilly concluded his June 4, 2017 letter to the Wall Street Journal with a call to include VOA’s management in any investigation of the Guo Wengui interview incident. Similar calls have been made by media freedom organizations which have asked for an independent congressional investigation, as did some of the Chinese American leaders who are opposed to the communist regime in China. Chinese Americans have staged protest demonstrations in front of the VOA building in Washington, DC while Chinese bloggers have posted hundreds of social media comments highly critical of VOA and VOA director.
READ MORE: VOA Should Come Clean on Mandarin Service: In my 11 years of experience at VOA, I am unaware of anything like this having happened before. By Robert R. Reilly, Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2017.
In her May 26, 2017 letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, VOA director Amanda Bennett wrote that “VOA has a 75-year-long history of producing comprehensive, independent and objective news in the face of even the most extreme pressures.” VOA has a 75-year-long history of producing comprehensive, independent and objective news in the face of even the most extreme pressures.” “Asserting anything less is an insult to the hundreds of VOA journalists who fled repressive regimes to escape similar practices—including in China,” Bennett added.
VOA Mandarin Service chief Sasha Gong, whom Bennett accused of not agreeing with “universally accepted journalistic principles” was a political prisoner in China. Gong is a PhD Harvard University graduate, historian, sociologist, blogger, and writer, as described in this older VOA press release.
Wei Jingsheng, an internationally known leader in the 1978 Chinese Democracy Wall Movement, former political prisoner in China for 18 years and winner of the 1994 Olof Palme Prize and the 1996 Sakharov Prize, has called for a completely independent investigation of the Voice of America senior management’s decision to shorten the live Guo Wengui interview.
Amanda Bennett is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, investigative journalist and editor who was named Director of the Voice of America in March 2016.
“The management decision regarding Ms. Gong’s interview was provided to her in advance of the broadcast in question and was based on the journalistic principles of verification, balance and fairness that are standard industry practice and apply universally to all VOA services. We regret if Ms. Gong doesn’t agree with these universally accepted journalistic principles. Ms. Gong is currently on administrative leave pending a full independent investigation, and until that is complete we will not further publicly discuss this or any other personnel issues.
Director, Voice of America
READ MORE: The VOA Follows Good Journalistic Practice: That practice held true in this case as well. By Amanda Bennett, Wall Street Journal, May 26, 2017.