USAGM WATCH COMMENTARY
This morning (March 17, 2020) the taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) in the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) posted a news report which repeated anti-U.S. Chinese propaganda and did not offer any substantive balance from the U.S. government other than President Trump’s short tweet, any analysis, context or examples of Chinese anti-U.S. propaganda and disinformation, but the Chinese communist regime still announced punitive measures against VOA while kicking out reporters from the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. In today’s news report, VOA did not mention China’s disinformation campaign to blame the United States for the coronavirus pandemic which originated in China.
This is not the first time the Voice of America has failed to report fully on Chinese propaganda and also not the first time that the Chinese government is threatening the Voice of America. The photo above shows former VOA Mandarin Service Chief Dr. Sasha Gong (L) and VOA Director Amanda Bennett (R). Gong was fired after her disagreement with Bennett over the shortening on Bennett’s orders of the 2017 VOA Mandarin Service interview with Chinese whistleblower Guo Wengui who offered to disclose details of China’s influence buying and spying operations in the United States. After being alerted of the planned interview, the Chinese government threatened the Voice of America with punitive measures if the interview were to be broadcast. Bennett has denied that there was pressure from China, but she reportedly made a decision to shorten the interview. She later recommended firing Gong who had conducted the interview and disagreed with Bennett’s decision to cut it short. Other VOA Mandarin Service journalists were also fired or disciplined. Bennett accused them of not observing VOA’s journalistic standards. They denied that they were guilty of these accusations.
Repeating Chinese propaganda often without any balance and counter in Voice of America programs, as well as the Chinese regime’s desire to keep its state-owned media representatives in the United States, may have saved VOA this time from being expelled from China altogether.
Mismanagement of VOA Chinese programs and a reported pattern of VOA repeating Chinese regime propaganda was criticized last year by Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) Executive Director Ann Noonan. Representing her non-partisan and independent NGO, Noonan highlighted one anti-U.S. and pro-China message from the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America when she spoke on September 11, 2019 at the open meeting of the U.S. Agency for Global Media Board which oversees the work of VOA executives and journalists.
SEE: One-Sided Voice of America Tweets Help Spread China’s Message, USAGM Watch Commentary, March 8, 2020
ANN NOONAN: During the Tiananmen Square massacre, Chinese students could rely upon VOA to cover their message without giving equal time or any time to the oppressors. If Carrie Lam needs to be quoted, can’t VOA say how this relates back to the CCP’s own propaganda to divert attention from the suppression of basic human rights in Hong Kong?ANN NOONAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE COMMITTEE FOR U.S. INTERNATIONAL BROADCASTING, SPEAKING IN WASHINGTON, DC AT THE OPEN BOARD MEETING OF THE U.S. AGENCY FOR GLOBAL MEDIA ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2019.
The Voice of America released this statement today in response to China’s threat against VOA.
The Voice of America joins with its colleagues at The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post in condemning China’s recent moves towards restricting U.S. media operations in China. Chinese authorities just announced moves that will curtail U.S. journalists — including those from the Voice of America — from operating inside China. Such restrictions on the free press are wrong and we stand firm in our commitment to free press operations in China and around the world.
VOA is a public service media organization with a congressionally-mandated firewall which prohibits editorial interference or control by the U.S. government. This is the very foundation of VOA’s independent reporting. By protecting against external interference, the firewall protects the credibility of the agency’s journalists and broadcasters.
In common with our colleagues at The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, we remain committed to our work in China and condemn attempts to curtail it. We are committed to continuing to serve as a consistently reliable, trusted and authoritative source of news to our Chinese-speaking audiences. More than 40 million Chinese citizens a week turn to VOA for unbiased news and nearly 9 in 10 audience members find VOA programming credible and trustworthy. Our work has become even more vital since the outbreak of coronavirus in China in late 2019 as people are coming to us for accurate information.
We join our other U.S. media counterparts called out by the Chinese government in this action and condemn this effort to restrict a free press and the flow of information into China.
Critics have questioned the accuracy of VOA’s audience claims.
SEE: Former Analyst Challenges USAGM Audience Measurement Methods, Claims of Sharp Increases. By Dan Robinson, BBG – USAGM Watch Guest Commentary, March 27, 2019.
Accuracy and reliability of some VOA reporting on coronavirus have also been questioned by high-level critics in Europe.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić in a recent nationwide television address harshly criticized VOA for spreading false news about coronavirus deaths in Serbia which he said did not happen. Voice of America director Amanda Bennett and her deputy Sandy Sugawara, appointed during the Obama administration in what is now the U.S. Agency for Global Media, did not respond immediately to e-mails informing them about President Vučić’s statement about VOA and his appeal to media not to spread lies. “I pray that it never happens again that for two days we have to apologize to people that their loved ones did not suffer, because Voice of America reported and social media reported that some died.” “Please do not spread lies,” Vučić added. The VOA Serbian Service posted (March 13) an apology on its website,
There were no reports of VOA Chinese services making similar mistakes, but employee morale is reported to be low.
ALSO SEE: Secretary Michael R. Pompeo Remarks to the Press, March 17, 2020 on Chinese measures against U.S. journalists.
Your third question was about the announcement that the Chinese Communist Party made today. Two things to say about that. First, in their statement they suggested somehow that the actions that we had taken here in America prompted this. This isn’t apples to apples. You all know the press freedoms you have. We were just joking about them, right. You all get to ask me whatever questions you want, and I give you the answer. We know that that kind of freedom doesn’t exist inside of China. Indeed, the Chinese will tell you that they want more information, people to know more about their country, and yet they continue to take actions like the one you see today, where they deny the world the capacity to know what’s really going on inside of their country.
The individuals that we identified a few weeks back were not media that were acting here freely. They were part of Chinese propaganda outlets. We’d identified these as foreign missions under American law. These aren’t apples to apples in any respect. And I regret China’s decision today to further foreclose the world’s ability to conduct free press operations, which, frankly would be really good for the Chinese people, really good for the Chinese people in these incredibly challenging global times, where more information, more transparency are what will save lives. This is unfortunate. We just saw it. I hope they’ll reconsider.
VOA programming to China has been in disarray for several years under Voice of America Director Amanda Bennett whose husband was reported to have corporate business interests in China, as did some of the past members of the agency’s oversight board which until 2018 was called the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). In 2018, Amanda Bennett denied that there was pressure from the Chinese government on the Voice of America to cancel or shorten the VOA Mandarin Service live interview with Chinese whistleblower Guo Wengui. She ordered the 2017 interview to be shortened, claiming it did not meet VOA’s journalistic standards. She later recommended firing or disciplining five VOA Mandarin Service journalists who had disagreed with her decision.
VOICE OF AMERICA
By VOA News
March 17, 2020 10:01 AM
China expressed its strong opposition Tuesday to U.S. President Donald Trump using the term “Chinese virus” to refer to the novel coronavirus that has spread to more than 150 countries around the world.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Trump’s language stigmatizes China.
Trump tweeted Monday: “The United States will be powerfully supporting those industries, like Airlines and others, that are particularly affected by the Chinese Virus.”
Last week, Trump shared someone else’s tweet labeling the coronavirus as “China Virus.”
When asked at a congressional hearing if it was “absolutely wrong and inappropriate” for the president to use such language, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield said, “Yes.”
“China was the first phase. Korea and Iran were the second phase, with Italy, now all of Europe,” Redfield said.
The World Health Organization refers to the novel coronavirus as the COVID-19 virus.
In announcing the name, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said having such a designation “matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing.”