The following is a joint statement from National Press Club President Michael Freedman and National Press Club Journalism Institute President Angela Greiling Keane on the decision by Michael Pack, the new chief executive of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, to dismiss the heads of the agency’s international news services.
“We are deeply troubled by Michael Pack’s swift and wholesale firings of top United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) news executives. While Mr. Pack retains the right to shape his own team, his actions suggest more of a purge than selective and deliberative executive actions. These steps place a cloud over the independence of the agency’s five broadcasting entities–independence that is guaranteed by law.
“In his message to USAGM staff on Thursday [6/18] Pack assured employees that in leading the agency he would ‘confer extensively with you–the talented and dedicated men and women of USAGM–and I will consult with all stakeholders, including Congress.’ Pack’s rash sacking of the heads of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting breaches that pledge.
“The firings followed the resignations of Voice of America Director Amanda Bennett and Deputy Director Sandy Sugawara, who left in apparent anticipation of Pack’s housecleaning. There is now a void in leadership atop USAGM’s news organizations. Federal law imposes a firewall that prohibits government officials, including the USAGM CEO, from interfering in the independent reporting by these news agencies. But President Trump has already made his intentions clear by unfairly and inaccurately disparaging VOA’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. USAGM is not a propaganda arm for the U.S. government. But it is now in danger of becoming one. And that threatens press freedom, the safety of its journalists overseas, and the trust of its global audiences.”
The National Press Club, the world’s leading professional organization for journalists, represents more than 3,000 reporters, editors and professional communicators worldwide. The National Press Club Journalism Institute, a nonprofit affiliate of the Club, promotes an engaged global citizenry through an independent and free press, and equips journalists with skills and standards to inform the public in ways that inspire civic engagement.
John M. Donnelly, NPC Press Freedom Committee Chairman: 202 650 6738; [email protected]
Jim Kuhnhenn, NPC Journalism Institute Press Freedom Fellow: 202 264 0783; [email protected]