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New USAGM Acting Head Names New Leadership to Networks

FILE -- The U.S. Agency for Global Media logo at Voice of America, in Washington, D.C., Nov. 22, 2019. (VOA)
FILE -- The U.S. Agency for Global Media logo at Voice of America, in Washington, D.C., Nov. 22, 2019. (VOA)

The top official at the U.S. Agency for Global Media has replaced the appointed heads of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Network with former senior executives.

Acting CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media Kelu Chao made the announcement within days of being named to the post by President Joe Biden.

Biden demanded the resignation of Chao’s Trump-appointed predecessor, Michael Pack, only two hours after taking office.

Chao, a veteran broadcast journalist, replaced Ted Lipien at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty with acting head Daisy Sindelar and said a permanent president will be named shortly.

Chao reinstalled Bay Fang to her post as president of Radio Free Asia, replacing Stephen Yates, and named Kelley Sullivan as acting president of the Middle East Broadcasting Network, replacing Victoria Coates.

“I have great faith in these leaders in ensuring the highest standards of independent, objective, and professional journalism,” Chao said in a statement Sunday.

Last week, Chao oversaw the removal of the top executives at the Voice of America — Robert Reilly, whom Pack appointed as VOA director in December, along with Reilly’s deputy, Elizabeth Robbins. Also last week, the chief of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting stepped down.

Since assuming her post last week, Chao has reversed the major appointments that Pack made throughout USAGM’s networks during the seven months he led the agency.

Pack’s short tenure as head of USAGM had been widely criticized by Democrats and some Republicans beginning with his purge of veteran managers under him.

His time leading USAGM also led to several whistleblower complaints, an order from the Office of Special Counsel to investigate allegations of mismanagement, and separate court orders barring him and his aides from interfering in VOA editorial decisions or installing appointees at the Open Technology Fund, respectively.

Democrats accused Pack of trying to turn the federally funded networks he oversaw into pro-Trump propaganda machines.

Chao on Sunday also announced new corporate board directors for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Network, replacing the board directors named by Pack just days before his departure.

The new directors are Karen Kornbluh, who served as an ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development under former President Barack Obama; Ryan Crocker, who has served as a U.S. ambassador to several countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan; and Michael Kempner, who heads a public relations firm in New York.

Kornbluh, who will serve as the board’s chair said in a statement, “Now more than ever, U.S. international media must serve as an accurate, reliable source of news and information in places where illuminating truth is needed the most.”

Chao has worked for more than 40 years at VOA and the agency and is the first woman to hold the top position at USAGM.

In her acting role, Chao will oversee USAGM’s networks and grantees, which include VOA, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and the internet freedom nonprofit, the Open Technology Fund.

The Biden administration said last week it would nominate a permanent CEO soon.

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