BBG Watch Commentary EXCLUSIVE
BBG Watch has learned that at least until recently some Voice of America (VOA) executives and managers, as well as members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), in addition to their official BBG email accounts have used their private email accounts to send emails about their activities as U.S. government officials or employees.
Use of private emails for government business has been common among officials and employees of federal agencies. The use of private emails by BBG and VOA overseers, executives and managers to discuss government business may, however, hamper any investigation by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) into the handling by the agency’s management of the April 19 VOA Mandarin Service interview with Chinese whistleblower Guo Wengui.
After the Chinese government strongly objected to the already scheduled Guo Wengui interview, it was shortened on orders of VOA director Amanda Bennett and other senior VOA managers, causing a fury of angry comments from Chinese social media users and a dramatic drop in VOA’s reputation in China.
Following the airing of the shortened interview, the Voice of America management put on forced leave with pay five VOA Mandarin Service journalists. One of those conducting the interview and placed on leave was VOA Mandarin Service chief Dr. Sasha Gong. She said she and many of her colleagues in the Mandarin Service were strongly opposed to the shortening of the interview and were convinced that the full interview would have been fair and balanced. VOA managers, most of them non-Chinese, who had made the fateful decision to limit the interview, were not put on administrative leave.
The OIG investigation was requested by several members of the U.S. Congress in a letter, dated August 28, 2017. The letter was signed by a member of Senate Committees on Appropriations, Foreign Relations and Select Committee on Intelligence U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL); Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Edward Royce (R-CA); a senior member on the Foreign Affairs Committee and Co-Chairman and the highest-ranking House member of both the bipartisan House/Senate Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), and the bipartisan House/Senate/White House Congressional-Executive Commission on China Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ); and Commissioner of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and Vice-Chairman of Terrorism and Illicit Finance Subcommittee Robert Pittenger (R-NC).
Additionally, President of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers NGO Reggie Littlejohn, Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng who now lives in exile in the United States, and several other Chinese rights defenders and scholars have signed an open letter asking the OIG to investigate whether members of VOA Management and the BBG, or their family members, maintain financial ties to China.
Some of the past and present BBG members have had corporate or private business investments in China and Russia or were attempting to do business in these or other countries without free media to which BBG directs its broadcasts. In some past instances in Russia, these U.S. officials reportedly received advice or other help in their private business activities from U.S. government employees of the BBG.
Amanda Bennett’s family is believed to have substantial business interests in China, but she has stated repeatedly that her decision to order the shortening of the live interview with Guo Wengui was driven only by her concern to uphold high standards of objective and balanced journalism at VOA and nothing else.
“Pressure from the Chinese government played no role in any decision-making,” Bennett said, as reported by the Voice of America.
Bennett was selected for her BBG position during the Obama administration, as was her boss BBG CEO John Lansing who, according to BBG sources, has defended her over the handling of the incident.
In a short, carefully-worded recent news report, which failed to mention some of the key material facts pertaining to the controversy, the Voice of America stated that VOA Director Amanda Bennett said Guo’s charges that VOA’s Mandarin Service in April was cut short due to interference from the Chinese government “are baseless.”