BBG Watch Commentary

Chinese bookseller, free speech advocate and former political prisoner in China Lam Wing-Kee 林榮基 has criticized the embattled U.S. taxpayer-funded and government-run international broadcaster Voice of America (VOA) for selective coverage of topics which the government in Beijing considers sensitive and for largely ignoring his recent testimony in Washington at a hearing before a bipartisan congressional committee. Lam Wing-Kee is one of five Hong Kong Causeway Bay Books booksellers who were abducted in 2015 and later paraded on China’s television. He was accused of trying to overthrow the Chinese government by mailing books to the mainland.

Mr. Lam made comments critical of the Voice of America at a talk on Sunday in New York City organized by the Visual Artists Guild and the New York Chinese Chamber of Commerce. He told the audience that he heard from friends in Hong Kong that VOA China services did not report specifically about his congressional testimony and pointed out that VOA did not interview him after he testified in Congress last week. The entire congresional hearing, including Mr. Lam’s testimony was broadcast live, however, on VOA China Branch Facebook page. Mr. Lam was interviewed after his testimony in Washington by Radio Free Asia (RFA) which together with VOA and other U.S. tax-funded international broadcasters is overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

The short-staffed and demoralized VOA Chinese Branch produced a general report on last week’s congressional hearing on Hong Kong but did not report on the specifics of Mr. Lam’s testimony and did not interview him. During the hearing, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), chairman of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), warned the Chinese communist authorities about any retribution against Lam Wing Kee for his testimony.

VIDEO: Senator Rubio warns authorities about any retribution against bookseller Lam Wing Kee for his testimony
“I just want to be very clear, after your appearance here today our view is that if any hostility comes your way…we will directly attribute that to your appearance here today and your willingness to speak truth before this Commission…I believe [this] should have a direct impact on the way we interact with the Chinese communist Party and their government. If in fact there is retribution sought against you for your appearance and your testimony here today we will take it as a deep personal affront to the Members of this body.”

The VOA China Branch report on the hearing was nearly seven and a half minutes long and included a long live Q&A with the VOA congressional correspondent, as well as a short clip of Sen. Rubio who mentioned Mr. Lam. Considering the tremendous pressure placed by the management on the VOA Mandarin Service and extremely low employee morale throughout the agency, the VOA Chinese report was quite good. With five journalists missing, however, the service was simply not capable to do more to report on the specifics of Mr. Lam’s testimony or to conduct an interview.

Speaking in New York on Sunday, Mr. Lam said that as far as the Voice of America is concerned, in Hong Kong itself VOA selectively and arbitrarily decides what to cover or not. He said the Chinese are by now all used to that. “Yes, he is disappointed about how VOA has covered his story, but it comes as no surprise to him,” Mr. Lam said.

He also said that as taxpayers, Americans should question this kind of performance by VOA.

The management of the Voice of America and the Broadcasting Board of Governors is still in the hands of officials appointed during the Obama administration. They include VOA director Amanda Bennett, VOA deputy director Sandy Sugawara, and BBG CEO and director John F. Lansing.

Last week, thousands of Chinese web users expressed their outrage when the VOA Mandarin Service was ordered by VOA director Amanda Bennett and her deputy Sandy Sugawara to shorten a previously promised three-hour live interview with Chinese businessman turned whistleblower Guo Wengui who offered to expose details about corruption among high-level Chinese Communist Party officials. Bennett accused the service of not following the best journalistic practices and placed five VOA Mandarin journalists under investigation. She reportedly told VOA Mandarin Service journalists that they cannot allow anyone being interviewed to make explosive allegations about other people, even if they are high government officials, without having given the other side an advance chance to respond.

The journalists say that they are completely confused by such instructions since Chinese Communist Party officials never respond to any specific criticism or accusations, not even to Chinese media, much less to VOA. They also point out that the VOA English Newsroom under Ms. Bennett’s watch regularly posts reports with serious accusations against President Trump and his administration, often without any proof, balance or an attempt to obtain a response in advance.

Many Chinese web users posting comments on the VOA Mandarin Service website described Ms. Bennett’s explanation of the Guo Wengui interview incident as “lies,” “shameful” and “despicable.” Many accused her and the Voice of America of caving in to threats from the Chinese government, an accusations she categorically rejects and denies. During a tense meeting in the VOA Mandarin Service, one of the journalists told her that the loss of VOA’s reputation in China as a result of the Guo Wengui incident was unprecedented in in the history of the Service and “unbelievable” in its scope.

Whether VOA Mandarin Service journalists were reluctant to interview Lam Wing-Kee because they could not meet VOA director Amanda Bennett’s requirement of obtaining in advance a response from Chinese communist officials to his accusations about his abduction by them in China could not be determined at this time, but such vague, inconsistent and unworkable instructions from the VOA director could very well limit VOA’s ability to report on corruption and human rights abuses.

[L-R] Jing Zhang, Ann Lau (Visual Artists Guild), Lam Wing Kee, Ann Noonan (CUSIB Executive Director) and Justin Yu at a NYC conference, May 7, 2017.


A Talk by Hong Kong Lam Wing Kee, victim of forced disappearance
“One Country, Two Systems: A Bookseller’s ordeal”

WHEN: Sunday May 7, 2017, 2:00 p.m.
WHERE: 33 Bowery, 2/Fl, B-202 NY, NY 10002
CONTACT : Visual Artists Guild Ann Lau 310433-0697
Chinese Chamber of Commerce 212-226-2795

Mr. Lam Wing-Kee 林榮基 is one of five booksellers who were forced disappeared in 2015 and later paraded on China’s television. Mr. Lam founded Causeway Bay Books 「銅鑼灣書店」in 1994 and sold it to Mighty Current Media Company 巨 流傳媒有限公司 in 2014. On October 24, 2015 Mr Lam entered China and was detained. On June 14, 2016, he was finally released back to Hong Kong with the instructions to contact Hong Kong police to drop his missing person case, retrieve evidence for China’s authorities and return to China to be under residential surveillance. Instead, on June 16, he decided to go public about his ordeal.
Mr. Lam has just finished testifying at the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China as one of their witnesses at the hearing scheduled in Washington D.C. on May 3.

NY Chinese Chamber of Commerce
The Chinese Chamber of Commerce of N.Y., Inc.
(212) 226-2795

Lam Wing Kee with Ann Lau, Visual Artists Guild, New York City, May 7, 2017.