The Donald Trump appointed and newly-installed CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media five publicly-funded multimedia overseas networks, Michael Pack, wasted no time during his first day in office June 17 in announcing his dismissal of four civil service heads of the networks. They are:
- President Jamie Fly of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a recently named specialist in Russia and Eastern Europe
- President Bay Fong of Radio Free Asia, also a recently installed career staffer, and
- President Alberto Fernandez of the Middle East Broadcasting Network, a well-known expert in that region and South Asia
- Director Emilio Vazquez of Radio-TV Martí in Spanish to Cuba
VOA (Voice of America) Director Amanda Bennett and Deputy Director Sandy Sugawara resigned on Monday ahead of Pack’s first day on the job. Bennett is a former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.
Pack, a conservative filmmaker who took over as CEO of the agency this week, is facing pushback from congressional Democrats on the committees with oversight of the USAGM.
Pack is an ally of former Trump strategist Steve Bannon with whom he has done several film projects.
Bannon celebrated the resignation of VOA Director Amanda Bennett by telling the Washington Times, “Now patriots can begin the process of cleaning up the mess she leaves behind.”
Another Bannon ally, Jeffrey Shapiro, was expected to take over the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. And conservative talk show host Sebastian Gorka was also reported to be in the running for a VOA post or membership of the agency’s governing board.
VOA is the agency’s flagship broadcast.
Critics fear Pack will jeopardize the independence of the broadcast networks, which are charged with objectively reporting about the U.S. and its foreign policy to an international audience of 350 million people and in 61 languages.
David Ensor, who was director of USAGM’s Voice of America (VOA) from 2011 to 2015, said Pack has the authority to replace the staff but that the sweep of firings is out of the ordinary for positions that are apolitical.
“It’s a little bit surprising that the administration’s guy has decided to get rid of absolutely everybody in charge of one of the news organizations,” he said. “But certainly he’s within his rights to do so.”