USAGM Publishes Rule to Prevent Outside Interference as Trump Ally Takes Helm

June 16, 2020 Updated: June 16, 2020

The U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) published a rule on Monday to fend off potential intervention from the White House into newsrooms operated by the USAGM.

According to the rule, firewalls exist between the newsroom of a USAGM network, everyone else in the organization, and the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government.

“This ‘firewall’ is understood to be violated when any person within the Executive Branch or a Network, but outside the newsroom, attempts to direct, pressure, coerce, threaten, interfere with, or otherwise impermissibly influence any of the USAGM networks, including their leadership, officers, employees, or staff, in the performance of their journalistic and broadcasting duties and activities,” read the rule. “It is also violated when someone inside the newsroom acts in furtherance of or pursuant to such impermissible influence.”

USAGM, formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), is an independent establishment of the federal government that currently operates five networks: Voice of America (VOA), the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN).

USAGM said that the rules were intended to maintain the editorial independence and adherence to the highest standards of professional journalism.

“The firewall is critical to ensuring that the editors, reporters, and other journalists of the USAGM network make the decisions on what stories to cover and how they are covered,” it stated.

Epoch Times Photo
The Voice of America building in Washington, on June 15, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

The rule was published after Michael Pack, a Trump ally, was confirmed by the Senate to be the head of the USAGM.

It’s unclear when the agency started to work on the new rule. USAGM didn’t reply to a request for comments at the time of publication.

Trump has been a vocal critic of VOA, lambasting the network’s coverage as pushing propaganda for America’s adversaries.

“If you heard what’s coming out of the Voice of America, it’s disgusting. What—things they say are disgusting toward our country,” Trump said at an April 15 White House news briefing. “And Michael Pack would get in and do a great job.”

Pack affirmed during his confirmation hearing that he will maintain the agency’s journalistic independence.

“The whole agency rests on the belief the reporters are independent, that no political influence is telling them how to report the news and what to say,” Pack said. “Without that trust, I think, the agency is completely undermined. So, I think that is a bedrock principle.”

But he indicated that there is a need to “make some decisions that keep the work of this agency in line with what the U.S. global interests are.”

VOA director Amanda Bennett and Deputy Director Sandra Sugawara resigned on Monday as Pack is set to take over as the head of USAGM.

“Michael Pack swore before Congress to respect and honor the firewall that guarantees VOA’s independence, which in turn plays the single most important role in the stunning trust our audiences around the world have in us. We know that each one of you will offer him all of your skills, your professionalism, your dedication to mission, your journalistic integrity and your personal hard work to guarantee that promise is fulfilled,” Bennett told VOA staff in a farewell message.

Tom Ozimek contributed to the report.

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