Voice of America not extending foreign journalists’ visas: report

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Foreign reporters who work for Voice of America (VOA) will not get their visas extended once they expire, according to an NPR report.

NPR, citing three anonymous sources, said Michael Pack, the CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), has signaled he will not approve the visa renewals. USAGM, formerly the Broadcasting Board of Governors, is the agency that runs state-owned media, including VOA.

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

On Wednesday, he fired Radio Free Asia chief Bay Fang, according to the NPR report.

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

The decision not to renew visas could hobble VOA’s operations, as the media conglomerate depends on native speakers of foreign languages to produce its content.

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 foreign-born VOA journalists are nationals of countries where persecution of journalists is common, and could potentially face danger for their work if they were forced to return to their countries of origin.

The nomination of Pack, a conservative documentary filmmaker, rankled Democrats, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (N.Y.).

“I’m troubled that the Senate has confirmed not an experienced manager of a news organization, but someone with long ties to right-wing individuals, organizations, and media,” wrote Engel in June.

“The Committee on Foreign Affairs will be keeping a very close eye on our broadcasters as Mr. Pack takes the reins,” added Engel.

Representatives for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs did not immediately return a request for comment.

A USAGM spokesperson told The Hill the agency will review visa renewals for foreign contract workers on J-1 visas.

The J-1 program was included among the work visas suspended by President Trump via an executive order last month.

“USAGM leadership is dedicated to ensuring that the agency has the resources needed to advance its mission and those of its networks and grantees. Given that the agency broadcasts internationally in over 60 languages, it appreciates the value of critical-language skills offered by U.S. citizens and foreign nationals,” wrote the spokesperson in an email. 

“To improve agency management and protect U.S. national security, it is imperative to determine that hiring authorities and personnel practices are not misused. As such, USAGM is undertaking a comprehensive, case-by-case assessment of personal services contractors (PSCs) who are J-1 visa holders,” the spokesperson added.

Tags Donald Trump Eliot Engel Michael Pack U.S. Agency for Global Media USAGM VOA Voice of America Voice of America
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