BBG Watch Commentary

The independent, non-partisan NGO, Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) has reacted to the news that the person appointed by Voice of America’s (VOA) senior management as VOA China Branch Chief does not speak nor read Mandarin.



April 5, 2018

For Immediate Release

CUSIB Statement on the Appointment of Ernie Torriero as China Branch Chief for Voice of America

CUSIB shares the concerns of Voice of America reporters, as well as their audience, about today’s email announcement by Norman Goodman, PhD, Director of Voice of America East Asian and Pacific Division to All Members of the China Branch stating that Ernie Torriero, who served for the past 9 months as Acting Chief of Voice of America’s China Branch, has been reassigned permanently as the China Branch Chief.

CUSIB would like our readers to focus on the last sentences of Dr. Goodman’s email: “As you know, our news reporting and programming for China is one of the agency’s highest strategic priorities. This means the work you do is critically important for VOA, for the BBG, for the American people and for the people of China.”

It is our understanding that China Branch Chief Torriero does not speak nor read Mandarin. As China Branch Chief, and if he is also heading Cantonese Service, CUSIB is equally alarmed to learn from one VOA employee who told us: “He doesn’t understand … that either.”

CUSIB awaits the announcement by the BBG about a Cantonese Bureau Chief, which is expected to follow today’s news.

Mr. Torriero has been described by VOA employees as a “nice guy,” but seems to have no in-depth knowledge of Chinese culture and ethnicity or possess editorial judgment in these areas. CUSIB has been told that Mr. Torriero is unfamiliar with the target audience.

CUSIB was told that in response to this announcement: “Everyone remains surprisingly quiet about it. After the 4/19 incident, they learned the consequences of speaking up.”

The “4/19 incident” refers to the BBG’s response to 5 Voice of America Mandarin Service journalists who were involved in the April 19, 2017 interview of Chinese billionaire and whistleblower Guo Wengui. During that highly publicized interview, the broadcast was cut off abruptly on the orders of Upper Management after a little over one hour.

The 5 Mandarin Service journalists were placed by Upper Management on administrative leave with pay. When we checked recently, only 2 of the 5 have been permitted to return to their jobs. Many questions surrounding the investigation remain unanswered, and the morale of VOA employees continues to plummet.

One reporter who was willing to speak without being named for fear of retaliation stated: “This place is not going to get any better unless there is a management overhaul. At the moment, I’m completely disillusioned. I’m speechless but everyone kind of expected this to happen. We just accept whatever ***t got thrown at our heads. [The Management] said we need to give China equal time and space in our reporting.”

CUSIB asks: Is there any chance in the world that Chinese media outlets would ever consider giving equal time to something the United States government would promote? Would they even address American concerns for the Tiananmen Mothers? For Uighurs, Tibetans, Underground Catholics, Falun Gong or persecuted Christians in China? Would they share our coverage of democracy advocates like Hong Kong’s Benny Tai? Would China’s media ever cover their own citizens who have spoken before the US Congress because they owned a book store in Hong Kong, or Chinese women who have applied for political asylum in the United States because they were forcibly aborted or sterilized in China?

China Branch Chief Torriero has been labeled by some as the second non-Chinese “from the Extremist Watch Desk.” The VOA Extremist Watch Desk is a sub-group in Central English News.

While CUSIB believes Upper Management at VOA or the BBG could have selected someone who is familiar with Chinese language and culture, and someone who does not need to be navigated by colleagues who have those skills, we hope he can measure up to the job and fulfill Dr. Goodman’s aspirations.

Since Mr. Torriero has only been in the China Branch for 9 months as Acting Chief, we will echo the words of one VOA reporter who said: “We haven’t gotten to see his true colors yet. Time will tell.”