Mr. Michael Pack
Chief Executive Officer
U.S. Agency for Global Media
330 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, D.C., 20237
Sent via email
Dear Mr. Pack,
As you assume leadership of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), we at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent press freedom organization, write to express deep concern regarding your initial moves as chief executive officer and their implications for the future of the USAGM and its private grantee networks. We urge you to ensure that these networks—including Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and Radio Free Asia (RFA)—continue to enjoy their editorial independence and are able to accomplish their core mission of informing the public.
We welcomed your statement on June 18 committing yourself to “honoring VOA’s charter, the missions of the grantees, and the independence of our heroic journalists around the world.” However, your dismissal without cause of senior staff at the agencies and dissolution of their bipartisan advisory boards has generated intense concern, which we share, that your true intention is to turn the news services into what has been derisively referred to as “Trump TV”—that is, agencies focused on promoting the political agenda of the current administration through their coverage decisions and editorial slant of news stories.
Changing USAGM in this manner would clearly violate the firewall provisions approved by the agency’s board of governors, and would have far-reaching consequences.
While each of the component agencies of the USAGM may have somewhat different descriptions of their missions, each is charged with providing timely, unbiased, and fact-based news reporting to listeners, viewers, and online readers, while maintaining independence from political influence. With freedom of the press under increasingly severe assault in many of the countries served by the USAGM, these agencies often present many people with one of the few alternatives to state-owned media. News consumers in these countries, including China and Russia, have no need for another propagandized news outlet.
Politicizing these agencies would also do great harm to U.S. efforts to promote democracy and human rights around the world. As members of the Senate subcommittee that funds the USAGM wrote, the United States “cannot afford to invest in an enterprise that denigrates its own journalists and staff to the satisfaction of dictators and despots, nor can it be one that fails to live up to its promise of providing access to a free and independent press.”
CPJ’s mission is to promote journalist safety and press freedom globally. In many of the countries we monitor, press freedom is but a distant dream. We know from our work in countries like Vietnam, Azerbaijan, and Russia, and from our correspondents on the ground, the high value of news reporting provided by VOA, RFE/RL, and RFA. Their reports provide an example of what a free press looks like, and they supply critical information that local outlets could never publish. As such, they are a continuing advertisement for democratic values.
The work of USAGM staff has been both pathbreaking and heartbreaking. In China, RFA’s pioneering reporting on the internment of Uighurs in Xinjiang resulted in the imprisonment of its staff’s family members. In Vietnam, RFA correspondents face prison for their independent, fact-based reporting on environmental disasters.
Similarly, the impact of RFE/RL reporting can be seen in the retaliation faced by journalists working for the service. In Russia, RFE/RL correspondent Svetlana Prokopyeva was convicted of “justifying terrorism” for her commentary on a radio program. In Ukraine, RFE/RL correspondent Stanyslav Aseyev is recovering from 1.5 years in captivity by pro-Russian separatists for his reporting on the daily lives of Ukrainians after Russia-backed forces gained control of the country’s east. And in Tajikistan, the autocratic government has repeatedly denied accreditation to correspondents of RFE/RL’s Tajik-language service, ever since the outlet reported on President Emomali Rahmon’s daughter receiving a Foreign Ministry post.
In our work, we often rely on reporting from these services to help document attacks on the press. Their work in gathering this information is both brave and essential. At the same time, these networks provide an essential service to local news consumers by reporting on CPJ’s research into killed and imprisoned journalists in their countries. This sets down critical markers for press freedom and allows citizens and civil society to hold their governments accountable.
Of course, no news operation can be immune to change and improvement. But the success of the USAGM news agencies is a direct result of their editorial independence and core mission to provide unbiased news coverage. As you begin your tenure as CEO, we urge you to take vigorous steps to protect and ensure the safety and independence of journalists who work at these agencies so they can continue their essential work.
Committee to Protect Journalists