Jun 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Report: Trump appointee fires VOA affiliate heads

A graphic depicting hands clamoring for a Voice of America sign.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democrats expressed concern after Michael Pack, the new Trump-appointed CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, dismissed the heads of at least three news outlets he oversees and disbanded boards to install allies Wednesday, per AP.

Driving the news: Pack fired Bay Fang, head of Radio Free Asia, Jamie Fly, who headed Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, and Alberto Fernandez, who was the head of the Middle East Broadcasting Network, Alberto Fernandez, according to AP.

Why it matters: There are fears Pack, a conservative filmmaker with ties to Steve Bannon, may turn Voice of America and other outlets he oversees "into Trump administration propaganda machines," AP notes. (VOA journalists have rejected such claims.)

  • After Senate Republicans voted last Friday to confirm him to the position, Voice of America director Amanda Bennett and deputy director Sandy Sugawara both resigned from their posts at the state-sponsored international news agency.
  • Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement on Wednesday that Pack's actions were an "egregious breach" and confirm he's "on a political mission to destroy the USAGM’s independence."

What they're saying: The Trump administration did not respond to a request for comment.

  • Pack vowed earlier on Wednesday to uphold the mandated role of Voice of America in "providing independent worldwide journalism even though it is a U.S. government-funded agency," according to VOA — which later carried AP's report of the reshuffle on its website.

Of note: The White House accused VOA in April of promoting Chinese propaganda during its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

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, Axios' Sara Fisher notes.

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

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