May 12, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Senate Republicans move to confirm conservative filmmaker as VOA chief


Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Senate Republicans are moving to swiftly confirm a conservative filmmaker to lead the independent agency in charge of Voice of America (VOA), the state-sponsored international news agency, per The New York Times.

Why it matters: The Trump administration has twice-nominated Michael Pack, but it's been held up in the Senate confirmation processes. Pack has received pushback from some Democrats for his ties to Steve Bannon.

  • Some Democrats still have hesitation. Last week, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez, D-NJ, told the White House he had concerns about Pack’s business history, per CNBC.

The big picture: Broader concerns about VOA's independence arose after an Obama-era legal provision changed governance over the agency from a board of non-partisan directors to a CEO selected by the president.

  • Last month, the White House escalated its attacks on the VOA, saying it elevated Chinese propaganda. Many Democrats initially feared that the VOA would become a propaganda arm for the Trump administration, which journalists within the agency vehemently deny.
  • Sources say that while the White House began to publicly slam the VOA in April during the coronavirus, it had been been posturing against the group for many months.

By the numbers: The VOA broadcasts in more than 40 languages and reaches an estimated weekly audience of 280 million, mostly international.

  • The agency receives over $234.7 million in annual funding through the U.S. Agency for Global Media, formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
  • It's governed by a 40+ year-old charter that legally requires the VOA to report "accurate, objective, and comprehensive" news abroad. Sources say that firewall feels very strong within the VOA.

Go deeper: VOA journalists fight claims that it is Trump propaganda

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