USAGM Watch Commentary

Representative Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), outgoing Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, called for Trump-appointerd and Senate-confirmed CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) Michael Pack “to resign or be fired.”

Engel Statement on USAGM Officials Breaching the “Firewall” and Targeting VOA Journalist

October 5, 2020

Bronx, NY—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following statement regarding reporting that senior political appointees at the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) are breaching the statutory firewall meant to protect the broadcast services from interference by an administration, including by targeting Voice of America’s (VOA) chief White House correspondent:

“One of Michael Pack’s first actions as USAGM’s CEO was to remove Voice of America’s standards editor, a breach of the firewall meant to protect VOA and our other broadcasters from interference by any administration. Hobbling VOA’s ability to police itself, Mr. Pack is now sending his right-wing political appointees after a respected and experienced journalist who recently authored stories providing unbiased reporting on President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus. Mr. Pack’s attempt to tell the broadcast services more broadly how to deal with perceived conflicts of interest likewise breaches the independence of those services and their journalists. VOA’s acting director should ignore any attempt by USAGM management to improperly interfere in the service’s work.

“Michael Pack’s short tenure as USAGM CEO has been a disaster, and this latest action builds on his alarming record of improper and retaliatory behavior that witnesses described during the Committee’s oversight hearing last month—a hearing at which Mr. Pack refused to appear in defiance of a duly authorized subpoena. Mr. Pack and those around him appear to have no respect for USAGM’s mission or the laws governing our international broadcasting efforts. I reiterate my call for Mr. Pack to resign or be fired. If this new reporting is accurate, the USAGM political appointees involved should be held accountable for violating the statutory firewall.”

END PRESS RELEASE

Evidence of conflicts of interest and major editorial problems at the Voice of America inherited by Michael Pack has been reported but is not usually mentioned in mainstream media articles.

A few weeks ago, VOA senior management and key VOA newsroom editors received irrefutable evidence that the VOA Albanian Service had decided not to report that Albania’s ambassador in Washington Floreta Faber interfered in U.S. elections by publicly tweeting what appeared to be an electoral endorsement for House Foreign Affairs Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) as he was running in the Democratic Party primary election in New York against another Democrat Jamaal Bowman — a race which Engel ultimately lost. Albanian-American voters are among Rep. Engel’s constituents although they do not represent a significant number. The official Twitter page of the Albanian Embassy in Washington, DC retweeted the same message. Eliot Engel has been interviewed multiple times over the years by the VOA Albanian Service and even bragged about it at one time. Speaking at VOA headquarters in Washington, Congressman Engel joked in 2013 that he had been interviewed by VOA so many times that when he visited Albania or Kosovo he was widely recognized.

National Public Radio (NPR) reported on October 4, 2020 that two political appointees at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) compiled and presented to acting Voice of America (VOA) director Elez Biberaj “an extensive report deemed ‘confidential’ on VOA White House bureau chief Steve Herman, claiming that in his reporting and tweets that Herman had been unfair to Trump and had broken the broadcaster’s standards and social media policies. “

BBG – USAGM Watch reported that in 2017 Steve Herman had imposed his own a ban on our website and our reporters who followed his Twitter account after BBG – USAGM Watch criticized him for tweeting unconfirmed news claims, some of which turned out to be false. BBG – USAGM Watch urged him to obey the two-source rule and to follow the VOA Charter which says that VOA News must be accurate, balanced and comprehensive. Herman was forced to lift the ban after BBG – USAGM Watch complained to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), as the U.S. Agency for Global Media which oversees VOA was then called, that such an action initiated by a U.S. federal government employee amounted to interference with a free media. 

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