Bannon Ally Takes Charge of VOA News; Directors Resign in Protest

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By Benyamin Davidsons

On Monday June 24, two veteran journalists who led Voice of America resigned, following the recent congressional confirmation of Michael Pack as the new head of the U.S.-funded news agency.  Mr. Pack was appointed to direct the government’s broadcast organization on June 4th.  President Trump has been avidly denouncing the way the organization is run, and has been working over the past few months to convince Republicans in the Senate to place Mr. Pack as the new head of Voice of America.  Mr. Pack is a conservative activist, a filmmaker and an ally of Stephen Bannon, the President’s former campaign strategist and White House adviser.

As reported by the NY Times, Amanda Bennett, the director of VOA since 2016, and Sandra Sugawara, the deputy director, emailed a letter to employees informing them  of their official resignations to Mr. Pack. The letter did not specify if they has been asked to resign by Mr. Pack.  “As the Senate-confirmed C.E.O., he has the right to replace us with his own V.O.A. leadership,” they wrote.

“Nothing about you, your passion, your mission or your integrity changes,” they added. “Michael Pack swore before Congress to respect and honor the firewall that guarantees V.O.A.’s independence, which in turn plays the single most important role in the stunning trust our audiences around the world have in us.”    “We know that each one of you will offer him all of your skills, your professionalism, your dedication to mission, your journalistic integrity and your personal hard work to guarantee that promise is fulfilled,” they wrote.

Voice of America was founded in 1942 to fight Nazi propaganda, with the goal of candid news coverage.  Authoritarian governments, such as China, have denounced VOA, accusing it of being a propaganda arm of Washington.  China has even reportedly delayed visas approvals for VOA journalists.

On Sunday, also Libby Liu, the chief executive of the Open Technology Fund, which promotes internet freedoms globally, resigned from her position.  The OTF is run by Voice of America.

Democrats had disputed Mr. Pack’s appointment, due to a criminal investigation initiated against him last month, probing whether he may have illegally sent $1.6 million from a nonprofit group he oversees to his film production company. Democrats also question his capacity to uphold and guarantee editorial independence.  Notwithstanding, Senator Jim Risch, Republican of Idaho and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pushed the confirmation of Mr. Pack through the chamber in a 53-38 vote.

Mr. Trump had publicly complained about Mr. Pack’s stalled nomination.  The President has often criticized Voice of America with the harshest terms, having called it the “voice of the Soviet Union”.  “If you hear what’s coming out of the Voice of America, it’s disgusting,” Mr. Trump said in April. “The things they say are disgusting toward our country. And Michael Pack would get in and do a great job.”  Mr. Bannon has also had a hand in publicly urging the President to change things up at V.O.A., calling the agency  “a rotten fish from top to bottom.”   Dan Scavino Jr., Mr. Trump’s social media director, had also attacked VOA on Twitter.  He wrote: “American taxpayers — paying for China’s very own propaganda, via the U.S. Government funded Voice of America! DISGRACE!!”


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