BBG Watch Commentary

At the open meeting of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) on November 14, Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) Executive Director Ann Noonan once again asked presidentially-appointed Board members who advise CEO John Lansing and other officials of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) to provide answers about the fate of Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin Service journalists, the VOA Mandarin Five, who had been placed by senior management on administrative leave with pay after some of them reportedly disagreed with management decision to cut short a live interview with Chinese whistleblower businessman Guo Wengui in April of last year. The Chinese government threatened VOA with reprisals if the interview were to be broadcast. After the threats were made, senior managers ordered VOA Mandarin Service journalists to shorten the live interview. VOA Director Amanda Bennett denied that pressure from the Chinese government played any role in the editorial decisions, but critics of the agency’s management disagree. The director’s spouse is reported to have business interests in China.

Ann Noonan also paid tribute to the late Voice of America Russian Service broadcaster Marie Ciliberti who produced Willis Conover’s jazz programs to Russia and in her retirement was active in the VOA employees union and defended the VOA Mandarin Five boroadcasters.

Marie Ciliberti helped to bring Willis Conover’s Voice of America jazz programs to audiences in the Soviet Union, worked tirelessly against numerous BBG plans to close down VOA language services, wrote commentaries for BBG Watch and defended VOA broadcasters from management reprisals, including the VOA Mandarin 5.


CUSIB supports all efforts by the Middle East Broadcasting Network to use its soft power to help restore tranquility to the area.

I’d like to take a moment to pay tribute to Marie Ciliberti, who served as a member of CUSIB’s advisory board, and who passed away last month. May she rest in peace.

According to her obituary, Marie truly loved her job “working as a broadcaster for the Voice of America (VOA) for over thirty years broadcasting in Russian to millions of people behind the Iron Curtain. She was also a tireless advocate for employees in the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) 1812 union within the VOA.”

Marie was a remarkable resource for advice about any number of issues, including religious freedom and the importance of radio and tv broadcasting into China. Like so many people inside and outside of Voice of America, Marie believed something must be done to protect the VOA Mandarin Five China Branch journalists.

It’s been a year and a half since the Mandarin Five incident. Is there any news? This is not an airing of the grievances – can the Governors here today please provide CUSIB with any news about the status of the case? Are all of the Board Members in agreement with the actions which have left these journalists suspended with pay effectively silencing their voices and halting their careers in journalism? Will there be a conclusion of the investigation to determine what forces, foreign or domestic were brought to bear on the broadcast that led to it being cut off mid-stream.

CUSIB also asks when the Cantonese Service Chief will be appointed, since the previous chief retired in July 2017. How long will VOA be “looking into it.”

The Cantonese Service chief is a front line supervisor position. CUSIB has been told that the pay grade is GS-13 only and the position remains GS-13 forever, compared with other language services, almost all of them are starting with GS-13 but they’ll be promoted to GS-14 within one or two years. Without the Cantonese Service Chief, the China Branch Chief may not have any reliable people helping him/her to study, evaluate, and execute the mission of VOA and design the strategy to the target audience and market.

In regard to the work of Radio Free Asia, CUSIB is tremendously concerned about China’s Communist Party’s efforts to malign and influence much needed global narratives and coverage about the resurgence of the Laogai system and detention camps in the Xinjiang Province. This is one of the most urgent human rights crisis today, the oppression of the Uyghurs. The efforts by the CCP to recast this oppression as a job training program should be exposed for what it is.

Thanks to Radio Free Asia the world will not remain ignorant as stories continue to pour out of Xianjiang Province about Uyghur missing family members and multiple detentions.

Thank you for your attention to these matters, and I look forward to your replies.