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Monday, January 25, 2021

Federal broadcasting agency employees just proved that their agency needs reform

Anyone who doubts that the U.S. Agency for Global Media needs reform should read a letter that was just sent by an anonymous group of its employees demanding that the U.S. Secretary of State be censored.

What’s bizarre is that these people are supposed to be journalists, not taxpayer-funded activists.

The USAGM includes the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio & TV Marti), Radio Free Asia, and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Radio Sawa and Alhurra TV). All of these government-funded broadcasting outlets were created to provide balanced, accurate, and unbiased news and information about the U.S. and the world to international audiences in 62 languages.

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Since June, the USAGM’s new CEO, Michael Pack, who is responsible for overseeing the broadcasters, has been introducing long-overdue reforms and ensuring that the broadcasters adhere to their congressionally-mandated charters, as his job requires. His efforts have been met by resistance at every turn, and the latest evidence of that is the letter that was released on Friday by the Government Accountability Project, a self-described “whistleblower protection and advocacy organization,” on behalf of a group of “whistleblower” VOA employees who “wish to remain anonymous.”

It’s not surprising that they wish to remain anonymous — serious journalists would ridicule their claims.

Their letter was prompted by an internal email from VOA Director Robert Reilly that Sec. of State Mike Pompeo planned to visit VOA Monday afternoon to speak “about the importance of VOA and the challenges facing the United States in the world today.”

Normally, such an announcement would be greeted by employees with pride, since it not only highlights VOA’s importance but also gives it live broadcasting rights on all of its networks of an international event featuring one of the nation’s highest-ranking officials. But these VOA employees wanted VOA to refuse to broadcast Pompeo’s live speech, according to their letter, because it “endangers public health and safety, violates law, rule and regulation and grossly wastes government resources.”

Each one of these ridiculous claims is easily refuted. Reilly’s announcement made clear that during Pompeo’s approximately 30-minute appearance, COVID-19 protocols would be followed, most coverage would be virtual, and seating would be limited. Did the complaining journalists not know that government briefings have been carried out even at the White House using COVID precautions?

The employees also bizarrely claimed that broadcasting Pompeo’s remarks would be “a violation of law, rule and policy” because, they declared, Pompeo’s purpose would be “to disseminate political propaganda in the waning days of the Trump administration.” Such a statement suggests that these journalists believe they’re no longer in the business of covering news — they’re in the predicting-the-future business. And, in their judgment, a live, exclusive speech from their own building by the Secretary of State is not news.

Finally, they claimed that the event would be “a gross misuse of government resources.” Do they have even a clue of why Congress and American taxpayers have given them these resources? Maybe they need to re-read their own Charter, which specifies why VOA exists: “VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive. VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions. VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.”

The so-called “whistleblowers” behind this complaint not only shamed VOA, but also provided fresh evidence of why VOA needs serious reform, including retraining and, if necessary, replacement of any employees who don’t understand or accept the mission of their own agency.

David S. Jackson, who spent 23 years covering stories around the world as a Time Magazine correspondent, was director of the Voice of America from 2002-2006.

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