BBG Watch Commentary


VOA Director Amanda Bennett’s Chinese New Year Greeting Backfires


By Anonymous VOA China Branch Reporter

Note: VOA journalist who wrote this commentary wants to remain anonymous because of fear of reprisals from the management. The reporter attempted to get a response from Voice of America (VOA) Director Amanda Bennett and the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) management, including USAGM CEO John Lansing, but the request submitted on behalf of the journalist was ignored.
VOA Director Amanda Bennett is featured in a VOA China Branch Lunar New Year greeting that was placed on the Branch’s Twitter account on Feb.3, 2019.

By Feb. 7, 60,000 people have viewed the one-minute video clip, and hundreds have left comments.

China Branch Chief Ernest Torriero sent a congratulatory e-mail to a bunch of people, Amanda Bennett included, on Feb. 4.

To that, Ms. Bennett replied: “That’s cute.”

What Torriero and Bennett apparently did not know is that most of the viewers’ comments were highly critical of the VOA Director for cutting short the live Guo Wengui interview on April 19, 2017, and of her decision to place five VOA Mandarin Service journalists on forced leave with pay, as well as the decision to fire Sasha Gong from her job and her position as Service Chief for alleged “insubordination.” Ms. Gong claims that she was only questioning Ms. Bennett’s and senior management’s decision to shorten the live interview convinced that they were responding to pressure from the Chinese government.

One viewer wrote in English: “VOA shame on what you did to Miles Guo in 2017. You are not a friend of our Chinese any more! You are a CCP’s good helper and Amanda is demobilized! VOA, evil! Amanda, evil!!!”

Another viewer uploaded a red certificate that is normally issued by the CCP Central Committee to exemplary Communist Party members, and placed Ms. Bennett’s photo right in the middle of the certificate.

Many more demanded that Ms. Bennett resign.

One viewer’s comment reads: “If you truly wish the Chinese people well, you should fulfil your duty of promoting democracy and rule of law and telling the truth….That will be ten thousand times better than this insincere New Year’s greeting!”

VOA China Branch Chief Ernest Torriero also appears in the short video. He was promoted to his current post in April 2018 although he doesn’t speak or understand Chinese. This fact didn’t escape some of the viewers’ attention.

One viewer’s comment says: “China Branch chief does not speak Chinese. Such a joke! How ironic!”

That may also explains why Mr. Torriero sent his congratulatory email to his superiors apparently without knowing what the viewers’ comments said. Someone who speaks and reads Chinese should have told him, but at VOA employees no longer feel safe to tell the truth to the powers that be.

When appointing Torriero as the China Branch director, Amanda Bennett told the branch staff that the management turned down all Chinese-speaking applicants in favor of Torriero because he is a “leader.”

VOA DIRECTOR AMANDA BENNETT: “You know, if you’re weighing something, you know, we’ve got a lot of candidates that came in who are super fluent in Mandarin, you know. But that was it. What good is that gonna do? You guys all speak Mandarin, you know, and Cantonese, you know. Why would I hire someone to do what all of you guys are able to do? What we need is a leader. Right?”

What good can speaking Chinese do?

After all, this incident proves that speaking Chinese may still have a little use for the boss of the Voice of America China Branch.



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