Friday, January 15, 2021

VOA Journalists Call For Top Leadership Resignations

Simmering tensions between journalists and managers at Voice of America grew into open rebellion Thursday, with more than two dozen newsroom employees signing a petition demanding the immediate resignation of their new director and his top deputy, reports The Washington Post.

VOA staff said Robert Reilly and Elizabeth Robbins had abdicated their responsibility to remain independent of government influence by ordering the global broadcaster to air a speech that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered at its Washington headquarters Monday — a “propaganda event,” the staffers called it.

The letter also criticized Reilly and Robbins for disciplining a reporter for seeking to question Pompeo afterward. The reporter, Patsy Widakuswara, who was removed from the White House beat after the incident, was one of the letter’s signatories. A top editor was reassigned in the wake of the event as well.

A VOA spokesperson declined to comment on the petition, saying the agency would not comment on “internal personnel matters.” Reilly did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The extraordinary demand follows months of underlying hostilities between VOA’s newsroom and Michael Pack, a conservative filmmaker who was appointed by President Trump to head VOA’s government parent organization, the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

Michael Pack
Pack has swept aside longtime managers at VOA and related agencies such as Radio Free Europe and replaced them with his own appointees. Since taking office in June, he has asserted the right to breach VOA’s “firewall” that prohibits political appointees like himself from influencing VOA’s news coverage. His short tenure has been marked by lawsuits, whistleblower complaints and adverse court decisions.

NBC News reports since Pack took over at the agency last year, he has fired senior executives and governing boards, refused to renew visas for dozens of foreign journalists and suffered rebukes from Congress and a federal judge. Press freedom groups and lawmakers have accused him of trying to turn the government-funded media outlets into propaganda mouthpieces for President Donald Trump.

Pack has rejected the criticism, saying he is returning the networks to their original mission and that some of the past coverage was politically biased.

It remains unclear why Pack has made major personnel changes only days before a new administration is due to take office. President-elect Joe Biden's team has made it clear it plans to fire Pack.

They appear to be "trying to burn the place down on the way out," said one VOA journalist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution by the network's management.

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