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VOA foreign journalists’ visas will not be renewed

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‘Wildly inappropriate’: VOA purge continues as foreign journalists’ visas not renewed

Concerns that decision, which comes after the appointment of a Trump loyalist as CEO, could place reporters in danger in their home countries

By THE GUARDIAN, Fri 10 Jul 2020

Dozens of foreign journalists who worked for Voice of America and its language services could be affected by the decision not to renew visas. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP
Foreign journalists working for Voice of America will not have their visas renewed by its new management and face repatriation to countries where some could face reprisals, in a move described by a former news executive from the organisation as “enormously cruel and wildly inappropriate”.

The denial of visa renewals follows a purge of executives and senior journalists from VOA and other state-run broadcasters under the authority of the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) by its new Trump-appointed CEO, Michael Pack.

Pack fired all the station directors who had not already resigned, and dissolved the bipartisan managing boards of the broadcasting organisations, replacing them with himself and five other Trump loyalists.

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Steve Capus, a former head of NBC News, was fired from his position as USAGM adviser and Steven Springer, a veteran journalist who had been in charge of upholding journalistic practices at VOA, was transferred to another advisory job and his post left vacant.

On Wednesday, it was reported that Pack had fired the former head of Radio Free Asia (RFA), Bay Fang, a highly experienced journalist who he had previously demoted to an editor’s job.

Dozens of foreign journalists who worked for VOA and its language services could be affected by the decision not to renew visas, which was first reported by National Public Radio. Among those who face repatriation are Chinese, Cambodian and Thai nationals.

“These journalists are uniquely situated to tell the world what’s really going on inside repressive regimes, and their reporting has illuminated all kinds of atrocities and other concerns,” Capus told the Guardian.

“The USAGM and the state department, and American embassies, all worked to protect these people and, and in some cases, visas were offered, or secured for them. To send these brave journalists home to face a truly uncertain fate is enormously cruel and wildly inappropriate.”

A state department spokesperson referred a request for comment to USAGM. USAGM’s public affairs department did not respond to an email inquiry.

Pack’s appointment and his purge of senior professional journalists has raised concerns that he would pack VOA with Trump loyalists and turn it into a propaganda outlet.

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One of Pack’s first acts was to order more prominence to VOA editorials, presenting US government policy, placing them on the home page of VOA language services alongside news reporting.

USAGM press releases have changed in tone since Pack’s arrival in his new job last month, and have been loaded with praise for the new CEO, lauding him for his “bold, significant and long-overdue” actions and the speed with which he operated.

At a time there was growing unease among journalists working for USAGM broadcasters among a looming political purge, a press release said that Pack’s initial email message to staff had received “an overwhelmingly positive response by staff and grantees, who personally reached out and candidly congratulated him”.

The press release quoted anonymous messages praising Pack, including one thanking him for having “emphasised that we all have a mission that unfortunately some have forgotten in recent and past years, to the disgrace of all.”

One of the journalists fired by Pack compared the new releases to official statements of the North Korean regime.

“It is a bit Dear Leader like, isn’t it?” the journalist said. “The one about him saying he’s been flooded with people welcoming him with open arms is just ludicrous – for him to say that he’s trying to improve morale and at the same time he’s sending Voice of America journalists back home to places like Thailand, or Cambodia or China. How in the world is that going to improve employee morale when you’re sending people home, perhaps to their deaths? And that’s not hyperbole.”

—— AUTO – GENERATED; Published (Halifax Canada Time AST) on: July 11, 2020 at 09:53AM

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