Journalism groups call on US media agency to renew foreign journalists' visas

Journalism groups call on US media agency to renew foreign journalists' visas
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Two major Washington journalism groups called on the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) Friday to commit to renewing visas for its foreign journalists.

The plea comes in the wake of an NPR report that USAGM, parent agency to state-run broadcasters like Voice of America (VOA), was considering stopping the renewal of visas for its foreign-born employees.

In a statement, the National Press Club and its Journalism Institute said USAGM was "placing dozens of journalists under a cloud of uncertainty and threatening not only their job security but their personal safety as well."

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A USAGM spokesperson told The Hill Thursday the agency is considering whether to support renewal of J-1 visas for its professional service contractors.

The J-1 visa is among a slew of visas that were included in President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Bob Woodward book will include details of 25 personal letters between Trump and Kim Jong Un On The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Biden commemorates anniversary of Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally: 'We are in a battle for the soul of our nation' MORE's executive order last month suspending the issuance of new work visas.

VOA employs dozens of foreign nationals, many of whom are critical in the mission of creating journalistic content through its 41 language services.

VOA's content, generally regarded as politically neutral by U.S. standards, is targeted to audiences around the world, particularly in countries that lack independent media coverage.

The agency, however, has been criticized by foreign rivals as transmitting pro-American propaganda.

Some services produce content in region-specific versions of English, French or Spanish and in as many as three different local languages.

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“We know of no sensible reason to deny VOA’s foreign journalists renewed visas,” said National Press Club President Michael Freedman in a statement.

“These men and women provide an essential service to VOA by reporting from the U.S. and telling the American story to their audiences overseas. They have the language skills and cultural background to perform this work. They are not taking jobs away from American workers,” he added.

The Press Club statement added that foreign-born journalists who work at VOA could put themselves at risk in their places of origin not only for practicing journalism but for doing it in the service of a U.S. government agency.

“Failure to renew visas for VOA’s foreign journalists could be tragic,” said National Press Club Journalism Institute President Angela Greiling Keane.

“Instead of fulfilling its mission of standing for press freedoms, USAGM would be chasing journalists out of the U.S. and putting them in harm’s way,” said Keane.

NPR, citing three sources, said in its report that Michael Pack, the CEO of USAGM, has signaled he will not approve the visa renewals. 

Pack was first tapped for the top job by President Trump in 2018 but was only confirmed by the Senate in June.

Under Pack, top media executives have left USAGM agencies, including former VOA Director Amanda Bennett, who resigned shortly after his appointment.