A bipartisan group of U.S. senators say they are planning to review funding for the parent agency of Voice of America and other government broadcasters after the agency’s new CEO fired the heads of several of those entities.
The senators alerted U.S. Agency for Global Media chief Michael Pack of their review in a letter Wednesday.
The lawmakers said they were “deeply concerned” by Pack’s decision to fire the chiefs of Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, as well as the Open Technology Fund.
“These actions, which came without any consultation with Congress, let alone notification, raise serious questions about the future of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) under your leadership,” the senators wrote.
They called the fired heads “qualified expert staff” who were let go for “no specific reason.”
“We intend to do a thorough review of USAGM’s funding to ensure that United States international broadcasting is not politicized, and the agency is able to fully and effectively carry out its core mission,” the senators said.
Those signing the letter include Democrats Patrick Leahy and Chris Van Hollen, and Republicans Lindsay Graham and Marco Rubio. Former Rubio aide Jamie Fly was head of Radio Free Europe and one of the executives fired by Pack.
Neither Pack nor any senior USAGM official has responded so far.
The Senate confirmed Pack as USAGM head last month, two years after President Donald Trump nominated him to head the U.S. government-funded news network.
Trump has recently assailed VOA for what he calls pro-China broadcasts and positive reports on China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
He pointed to the two-year-long delay in the Pack confirmation as an example of Democratic stonewalling.
Pack is promising to maintain VOA’s traditional nonpartisan news coverage, which is enshrined in U.S. law.
Pack has appointed Elez Biberaj, a longtime VOA journalist and the agency’s former Eurasia division chief, as acting director. Biberaj replaces Amanda Bennett, who resigned just after Pack was confirmed, saying he has the right to install his own people in high-level positions.
“Our mission is more important today than ever, and VOA is uniquely positioned to tell America’s compelling story, provide U.S. perspectives, and serve as a model of free press,” Biberaj wrote in a letter to VOA staffers Tuesday.
Pack has also named heads of the other USAGM entities: Jeffrey Scott Shapiro as acting director and principal deputy director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB); Parameswaran Ponnudurai as acting head of Radio Free Asia; Kelley Sullivan as acting president of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks; and Daisy Sindelar as acting president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.