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VOA’s New Leadership to be Questioned by Foreign Affairs Committee

(Image credit: VOA)

WASHINGTON—The long-standing role of Voice of America as an international broadcaster independent from government influence is being questioned under the new leadership of Michael Pack, CEO of the United States Agency for Global Media. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs will address these concerns during a hearing scheduled for July 8.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) officially called Pack to testify for this hearing.

Pack, after three years awaiting Senate approval, was officially appointed by President Trump to his current role with USAGM, which oversees VOA, on June 16, at which time VOA Director Amanda Bennett and Deputy Director Sandy Sugawara resigned from their positions. 

According to a press release from Engel’s office, Pack also removed the heads of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcasting Network and the Open Technology Fund. He also named new boards to these services that are comprised of himself, his chief of staff, three Trump administration political appointees from across the Executive Branch and Jonathan Alexandre, senior counsel of the lobbying arm of Liberty Counsel, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group, per Engel's press release.

Engel also says he learned that Pack intended to remove eight career agency employees in USAGM’s traditionally nonpolitical front office. The action has reportedly been paused, but Engel says that he has suspended delegations of authority to these individuals, meaning they can no longer perform their duties.

“The law requires that American international broadcasting be independent from influence by any administration official—including the CEO,” said Engel in the press release. “Mr. Pack’s day-one purge of senior officials and appointment of right-wing ideologues and Trump loyalists sends an alarming message. Mr. Pack should explain to the Committee and the American people his vision for the agency, the reason for terminating so many senior staff all at once and his other initial actions as CEO.”

The Society of Professional Journalists have also commented on the first days of the USAGM and VOA under Pack, saying that his actions make it clear his intention is to “move the agency away from its charter and legal position of providing independent and unbiased reporting to that of a propaganda machine” like in a totalitarian state. 

SPJ says that VOA has been a hallmark of independence from political control across the globe for more than 70 years.

“While previous administrations have criticized the coverage of VOA when its reporting showed the world the shortcomings in American society and American policy, none has engaged in the full-scale removal of the editorial leadership we have seen this month,” the SPJ’s press release reads. “This move by Pack and the Trump administration is sending the wrong message to the hard-working journalists in the VOA and to the world. The message is one of intimidation that independent and balanced journalism is not to be tolerated.”

SPJ National President Patricia Gallagher Newberry added: “To keep going in the direction that the administration seems set upon will remove the very strength that has established VOA as a highly respected, professional news organization.”

The USAGM had no official comment at the time of publication regarding the hearing, but in a press release announcing the early moves by Pack, he is quoted as saying:

“Every action I carried out was—and every action I will carry out will be—geared toward rebuilding the USAGM’s reputation, boosting morale and improving content. I made a solemn promise to Congress, to the president and the American people to execute this plan. Indeed, I am not doing it unilaterally. To the contrary, this plan is wholly pursuant to the bipartisan language that was developed and approved by Congress and the previous administration, both of which readily recognized that the agency had grown obsolete and ineffective implementing its statutory mission.”

The hearing with the Committee of Foreign Affairs is set for July 8 at 2 p.m. ET.