The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved six people to serve on the board of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, the government agency that oversees six congressionally funded international broadcasting and tech entities, including Voice of America.
The bipartisan International Broadcasting Advisory Board (IBAB) was approved by the Senate en bloc, meaning the nominees were approved without a recorded vote.
In an email Thursday to staff, USAGM CEO Amanda Bennett said the newly approved board "brings a wealth of talent, expertise and passion to our mission, which remains critical in the wake of the ongoing global information war."
"As hundreds of millions of people rely on our fact-based news to triumph over information manipulation and censorship, the IBAB adds a layer of oversight and strategic guidance that will undergird our commitment to freedom and democracy into the future," she added.
The board members include Jamie Fly, the former head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; Kathleen Cunningham Matthews, a former journalist and communications executive; Jeffrey Gedmin, a journalist, author and former head of RFE/RL; Kenneth M. Jarin, a partner at national law firm Ballard Spahr; Luis Manuel Botello, a former investigative journalist and consultant for the International Center for Journalists; and Michelle Mai Selesky Giuda, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state and acting undersecretary of state.
USAGM has a seven-person board, six of whom are presidentially appointed and one who is the secretary of state. No more than three can be affiliated with the same political party.
This is the first USAGM board approved since legislation passed in late 2020 empowered the board to approve appointments or dismissals of any network heads.
Under those changes, the board is required to advise the chief executive on ways to improve the effectiveness of programming, report to congressional committees and act as a safeguard to ensure the chief executive "fully respects the professional integrity and editorial independence" of the networks she oversees.
Those provisions were created after the previous USAGM chief, Michael Pack, drew widespread criticism for his interpretation of the powers granted to the presidentially appointed chief executive.
An independent investigation into whistleblower complaints about Pack and his team's governance found he abused his authority, allowed gross mismanagement of funds and breached the editorial firewall designed to protect USAGM journalists from political interference.
Under the amended provisions approved in late 2020, the USAGM chief executive now needs majority board approval to hire or remove network heads.
Bennett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and investigative journalist and former VOA director, was approved as USAGM chief executive in a September 2022 vote for a three-year term. She oversees an agency that for fiscal 2024 submitted a budget request of $944 million and that has a mission to provide independent international news coverage and circumvention tools to a weekly audience of 410 million.
USAGM oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks. It also oversees the Open Technology Fund, which provides tools to help audiences overcome internet restrictions and surveillance.