USAGM Watch Commentary
Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued his statement on Wednesday, April 7, which was critical of U.S. Agency of Global Media (USAGM) CEO Kelu Chao’s appointment of Sylvia Rosabal as new Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) Radio and Television Martí Director, to post a report in English on his criticism. A VOA report was written on Friday but not released until Monday, two days after USAGM Watch first signaled VOA’s delay in releasing the story.t took the Voice of America (VOA), U.S. tax-funded broadcaster, five days after Senator
VOA English News posted its report on Senator Menendez’s criticism on Monday, April 12 at 8:26 AM EDT. As of 7:20 PM Monday, a search of the VOA Spanish-language website, does not show any results for Menendez’s questioning of the USAGM CEO’s appointment of the OCB director. Menendez is the son of Cuban immigrants. Rosabal was born in Puerto Rico to Cuban parents.
“While I respect Ms. Rosabal’s journalism credentials, I do not think she is the right person to lead the OCB,” Senator Menendez said in a statement posted on his official U.S. Senate website also on April 7.
“I am concerned that she is of the view of accommodation with the Cuban regime rather than of challenging its human rights violations and denial of democratic freedoms to its people,” Senator Menendez also said in his statement.
We know of no response from Kelu Chao or from Sylvia Rosabal.
The inexplicably and long-delayed Voice of America report can be seen on the VOA English News website (VOANews.com) under “US News.” However, as of 7:20 PM Monday, typing “Menendez” or “OCB” to search the VOA English site for the report does not produce it.
A large portion of web traffic to VOA News English-language website comes from the United States. Some VOA foreign language sites also attract considerable traffic from immigrants living in the United States. Although VOA is by law not allowed to target U.S. audiences, it has a growing impact on domestic public opinion in the United States. Our recently-restarted citizen journalists’ website, USAGMWatch.com–previously known as BBGWatch.com–helps to provide a measure of public oversight and accountability for VOA reporting and for activities of the $800 million (average recent annual budget) U.S. Agency for Global Media.
Typing the name of media and communications executive Sylvia Rosabal whom Kelu Chao named as the director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting produces “no results” on the VOANews.com. However typing other current news-related keywords, such as “Minnesota,” does produce the latest VOA news reports in English.
The fact that the Voice of America sat on the already written story can be seen in the content posted on VOANews.com Monday morning. One sentence in the VOA report says: “The appointment of an award-winning journalist to lead the Office of Cuba Broadcasting was criticized this week [sic] by a U.S. lawmaker who suggested she does not have a strong enough track record of promoting liberty for Cuban citizens.”
“This week” was in fact last week. Senator Menendez issued his statement on Wednesday of last week. USAGM Watch has confirmed that the VOA report was already written Friday morning. Someone or some persons sat on it for three days.
It is also more than strange that a search for “Menendez” on the VOA News website hours after the report was posted Monday morning after a long delay only shows old reports with references to him. The latest were from March and February 2021. There were none in April.
As of Monday, 6:20 PM EDT, using the search function of VOANews.com does not show today’s report describing Senator Menendez’s criticism of the USAGM acting CEO’s decision on the selection of the OCB director. The report can be found by going from the VOANews.com homepage to the “US News” page and scrolling down.
Some VOA journalists, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to media and also fear retaliation from management, told USAGM Watch that the U.S. Agency for Global Media front office did not respond to a request for comment for the report.
The VOA report said that “USAGM has not responded to VOA’s questions about Menendez’s criticisms.”
VOA journalists also told USAGM Watch that they want to know why it took the Voice of America five days to post the report on Senator Menendez’s criticism of the current USAGM head’s OCB decision and why the report, after it was written and approved, was not published online for three days.
VOA News reported promptly on Senator Menendez’s previous, often harsh criticism of former, Trump-appointed USAGM CEO Michael Pack. He resigned in January after being informed that President Biden would fire him. Kelu Chao was designated promptly by President Biden as acting USAGM CEO.
According to a USAGM press release issued on January 21, 2021, it is expected that President Biden will nominate a permanent CEO in the near future. The USAGM press release says that Kelu Chao has served for nearly 40 years at VOA having risen through the ranks from an intern, field reporter, editor, Mandarin service chief, East Asia division director, and acting VOA director, to her most recent former position as VOA program director. The link to her fuller bio on the USAGM.gov website does not work.
The VOA report notes that “Rosabal is the final network director to be named by Chao during a 90-day window Congress included in the December COVID-19 relief bill that gave the head of USAGM power to make hiring and firing decisions.”
The report also points out that “New provisions included in the National Defense Authorization Act will now come into effect that contain more restrictions on the appointments of network heads.”
VOA ENGLISH NEWS REPORT
By VOA News
April 12, 2021 08:26 AM
The appointment of an award-winning journalist to lead the Office of Cuba Broadcasting was criticized this week [sic] by a U.S. lawmaker who suggested she does not have a strong enough track record of promoting liberty for Cuban citizens.
The U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees the OCB and other independent networks including Voice of America, announced Wednesday that veteran media and communications executive Sylvia Rosabal will be the director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.
Rosabal is the latest network head to be hired by Kelu Chao, a former VOA executive who took over as acting chief executive when former CEO and Trump nominee Michael Pack resigned hours after President Joe Biden took office.
Chao was a whistleblower named in a court case brought against Pack and his aides that claimed editorial interference at the news network.
Rosabal, a former senior vice president of the news division at Telemundo Network, has won numerous awards during her 30-year career at Spanish-language networks in the U.S., including an Edward R. Murrow award for journalistic excellence. She also worked on media logistics for the 2020 Democratic National Convention Committee.
The longtime South Florida resident was born in Puerto Rico to Cuban parents.
Rosabal will fill the director position at the Office for Cuba Broadcasting that has been vacant since Jeffrey Scott Shapiro resigned in late January, shortly before Chao fired the other USAGM network heads who were installed by Pack in his last weeks as CEO.
Pack’s leadership drew bipartisan criticism from members of Congress, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Menendez and others who said his moves undermined the agency’s editorial independence.
[AP PHOTO NOT REPOSTED]
FILE – Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 12, 2018.
The USAGM’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting is headquartered in Miami, Florida, where it oversees Radio and Television Marti, martinoticias.com, and its social media platforms.
Radio and Television Marti provides unbiased news and information via satellite television and radio to people in Cuba, who have limited access to independent news. This week a bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers wrote to the Biden administration asking it to increase the Office of Cuba Broadcasting’s budget to $30 million next year. OCB’s budget in 2020 was $12.9 million.
Cuba ranks 171st out of 180 countries, where 1 is the most free, in the World Press Freedom Index compiled by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
Menendez, whose Cuban parents immigrated to the United States before he was born, said he respected Rosabal’s journalistic credentials but that he planned to seek information on how the new director plans to promote “the principles of a free press and of free speech in Cuba.”
“I am concerned that she is of the view of accommodation with the Cuban regime rather than of challenging its human rights violations and denial of democratic freedoms to its people,” Menendez said.
USAGM has not responded to VOA’s questions about Menendez’s criticisms.
Rosabal is the final network director to be named by Chao during a 90-day window Congress included in the December COVID-19 relief bill that gave the head of USAGM power to make hiring and firing decisions.
New provisions included in the National Defense Authorization Act will now come into effect that contain more restrictions on the appointments of network heads.
END OF VOA NEWS REPORT
READ MORE: Voice of America Not Posting Story on Senator Bob Menendez’s Criticism of USAGM CEO’s Choice for OCB Director, USAGM Watch, USAGM Watch, April 11, 2021.
READ MORE: Senator Bob Menendez questions USAGM acting CEO’s decision to appoint Sylvia Rosabal to serve as Director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, USAGM Watch, April 9, 20201.
ALSO READ: Biden’s USAGM Transition Leader Richard Stengel Pushed Normalization with Castro’s Cuba for OCB and VOA EXCLUSIVE, USAGM Watch, November 16, 2020.