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VOA Urdu Service Investigated Over Biden Video

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

The U.S. Agency for Global Media is investigating whether a video posted by Voice of America’s Urdu language service is in violation of the U.S. broadcaster’s editorial standards and federal laws that govern political activities of government employees.

The video, containing VOA logos and subtitles in Urdu, features clips of Democratic presumptive nominee Joe Biden speaking at a July 20 Million Muslim Votes event that was organized by nonprofit Emgage Action, and a campaign ad by the same political group.

It was shared on the Urdu service website and social media platforms earlier this month before being removed by senior journalists at VOA concerned about its content.

USAGM, the agency that oversees VOA, said Thursday that the investigation would look into who was responsible for the video and whether it violated laws including the Hatch Act. That law, which applies to federal employees, limits political activities to ensure nonpartisanship.

“USAGM staff members who attempt to influence American elections will be held accountable,” Michael Pack, the agency’s chief executive, said in the statement.

Journalists at VOA are expected to adhere to strict journalistic standards on balance and objectivity. Federal employees and some contractors are also barred by the Hatch Act from participating in partisan political activity while on duty.

Those found in violation of the act can lose their jobs, be demoted or face fines of up to $1,000.

In the two-minute video, the former vice president is seen telling American Muslims that a Biden administration would address issues of concern to them and rejecting a Trump administration policy sometimes referred to as “the Muslim ban.” That policy banned immigration for 90 days from seven Muslim-majority countries but applied to all citizens of those countries and did not ban Muslims from other countries.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June 2018 upheld the immigration policy.

Nearly 3.5 million people globally follow the VOA Urdu Facebook page, and the service has more than 184,000 Twitter followers.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed there were 397,500 Urdu speakers in the U.S. between 2009 and 2013.

In his statement, Pack said, “Our networks comprise the U.S.'s megaphone to the world, and this invaluable instrument is generously funded by the American people. To safeguard our agency's reputation and the integrity of our content, I will continue to ensure that violations of journalistic standards and principles are dealt with swiftly and fairly.”

VOA broadcasts in Urdu and 46 other languages as part of its mission to provide independent, unbiased news to some of the most restricted countries in the world.