House Democrat says planned US media agency firings ‘put on hold’

A plan to oust senior officials in the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) was put on hold, the top House Democrat with oversight of foreign affairs said Wednesday, hours after warning that firings were imminent.

Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement posted to Twitter that he “learned this morning that this short-sighted plan was fortunately put on hold.”

“However I remain deeply concerned about the new management at [USAGM] and will he keeping a close eye on the agency.”

USAGM is the umbrella organization of at least five international broadcasting services, including the Voice of America (VOA), and broadcasts in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Cuba. The outlets provide news from and about American foreign policy to audiences with limited press freedoms or access to objective and international reporting.

Engel had sounded the alarm late Tuesday night that the newly confirmed CEO of USAGM, Michael Pack, had planned to force out a number of senior staff, and that followed the recent resignations of senior editors at VOA.

Pack, who was confirmed for his role by the Senate on June 4, has drawn criticism from Democrats who fear the conservative filmmaker would compromise the independence of the broadcast outlets and push a partisan editorial line.

Pack is also under investigation in Washington, D.C., over alleged misuse of funds by putting money for his nonprofit toward his for-profit film company.

VOA has come under attack by President Trump, most notably in April with a White House statement alleging it was amplifying Chinese propaganda about the novel coronavirus pandemic. VOA journalists were also put on a blacklist for interview requests at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In a lengthy statement pushing back on the White House charges at the time, former Director of VOA Amanda Bennett — who resigned on Monday along with Deputy Director Sandy Sugawara — said the organization’s journalists were “thoroughly covering” China’s disinformation and misinformation and “factually reporting” on other events in China.

“One of the big differences between publicly-funded independent media, like the Voice of America, and state-controlled media is that we are free to show all sides of an issue and are actually mandated to do so by law as stated in the VOA Charter signed by President Gerald Ford in 1976,” Bennet said at the time. “We are thoroughly covering China’s dis-information and misinformation in English and Mandarin and at the same time reporting factually — as we always do in all 47 of our broadcast languages — on other events in China.”

The USAGM did not respond to repeated requests for comment by The Hill.

Tags China Donald Trump Eliot Engel Michael Pack VOA Voice of America

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