In departure from Trump, State affirms editorial freedom of Voice of America


Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday reaffirmed the department’s commitment to the editorial freedom of Voice of America and other outlets operated by the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM).

Blinken met with USAGM acting CEO Kelu Chao “to discuss the vital role that free and independent media play” at an agency that had a turbulent several years under the Trump administration. 

“The editorially independent reporting of these networks is particularly important in countries with repressive media environments, including where independent journalism is censored or freedom of expression is restricted or punished,” the State Department said in a readout of the meeting.

USAGM, which runs Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, and other networks, is funded by the government but operates under an editorial “firewall” designed to block any interference in its coverage.

The statement comes just months after former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech at Voice of America headquarters blasting the agency. 

In his January speech, Pompeo touted “American exceptionalism” and criticized VOA for a lack of positive coverage of the administration.

“It’s not fake news for you to broadcast that this is the greatest nation the world has ever known,” Pompeo said on the broadcast. 

“I’m not saying ignore our faults. Acknowledge them. But this isn’t the Vice of America, focusing on everything that’s wrong with our great nation. It certainly isn’t the place to give authoritarian regimes in Beijing or Tehran a platform.”

Pompeo’s speech came as then-CEO Michael Pack had dismissed a number of employers who had complained of politicization of the agency.

In the hours after the speech, VOA reassigned reporter Patsy Widakuswara, its senior White House correspondent, after she was seen attempting to question Pompeo as he left the building.

Widakuswara was later reinstated a few days later, but five whistleblowers who complained about Pack weren’t reinstated until the Biden administration came in. 

President Biden dismissed Pack the day after he was sworn in, and the whistleblowers have since asked for an investigation into the contracts he signed hiring law firms to review the records of USAGM employees. 

Though an independent agency, the secretary of state previously served as a ex-officio member of the USAGM board. 

Asked Tuesday if the State Department planned to take a more active role in managing USAGM, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Blinken “thinks that it is important that we continue to adhere to that firewall.”

“We can do both. We can ensure that USAGM has the backing, has the support it needs to accomplish its important mission without interfering in that important mission,” he said.

Tags Antony Blinken Joe Biden Mike Pompeo U.S. Agency for Global Media United States Department of State Voice of America

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