Trump’s new overseas broadcast head sacks network chiefs and advisory boards

By on 23/06/2020
New US Agency for Global Media chief executive, Michael Pack, has caused controversy in his first week. (Photo courtesy: VOA via Wikipedia).

A purge of senior leaders at the US agency tasked with providing news in countries without a free press has raised fears over the agency’s own autonomy.

The new chief executive of the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), Michael Pack, has appointed Trump loyalist Emily Newman as chief of staff, while firing the heads of government-sponsored broadcast networks.

Newman was previously an adviser to the Department of Homeland Security, according to non-profit media organisation National Public Radio, before joining USAGM: an independent federal agency overseeing international media services such as Voice of America.

Pack fired the heads of four of the USAGM’s five key broadcast networks, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; Radio Free Asia; the Office of Cuba Broadcasting; and Middle East Broadcasting Networks. He also dissolved the advisory boards watching over each of the networks, passing their responsibilities to his own aides. 

The fifth, Voice of America, had already lost its director Amanda Bennett and deputy director Sandy Sugawara. Both resigned the previous weekend, when Pack’s post was confirmed by the Senate.  

Newman issued an all-staff memo announcing the changes, and telling employees that no external communications are to be made without explicit approval of the new executives, a report by CNBC stated.

“Egregious breach”

The reshuffle as Pack took up the reigns last week has caused controversy. CNN quoted Democratic senator Robert Menendez as saying that Pack is on a “mission to destroy the USAGM’s independence”. The firing of its network heads and disbanding of corporate boards is, he said, “an egregious breach of this organisation’s history and mission from which it may never recover”.

Jamie Fly, president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty took to Twitter to express his disappointment in leaving the agency. “The US cannot continue to fall behind China, Russia, or Iran in the info space. Our competitors are well funded and focused on repressing their citizens and undermining democratic govts everywhere. Our greatest weapon is our adherence to the truth and we should not discard it.”

The staff of RFERL need “clear and consistent leadership, funding, and support” when they come under pressure, he said, but have been deprived of these for much of the past decade due to micromanagement from Washington, political fights over its purpose, and “strategic neglect”.

“I sincerely hope my departure is not a sign of more of the same,” he added.

Alberto Miguel Fernandez, who headed up Middle East Broadcasting Networks, tweeted that he regretted his departure was so “precipitous,” adding, “wish the incoming people at @USAGMgov well. I hope they know what they are doing.”

World stage

Pack, a conservative film-maker, said in a statement to staff that he wants to make the agency more effective. “I will provide the leadership and vision to ramp up the impact of the five broadcasting entities and to create a more effective US international broadcasting effort on the world stage,” he said.

One of his other priorities is to raise employee morale at the USAGM, which ranks at the bottom in surveys of agencies in terms of morale and job satisfaction, he said.

About Catherine Early

Catherine is a freelance journalist and editor specialising in government policy and regulation. She writes predominantly about environmental issues and has held permanent roles at the Environmentalist (now known as Transform), the ENDS Report, Planning magazine and Windpower Monthly, and has also written for the Guardian, the Ecologist and China Dialogue. She was a finalist in the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition 2009, and was part of the team that won PPA Business Magazine of the Year 2011 for Windpower Monthly. She also won an outstanding content award at Haymarket Media Group’s employee awards for data-led stories in Planning magazine. She holds a 2:1 honours degree in English language and literature from Birmingham University.

2 Comments

  1. Marky

    23/06/2020 at

    “Our competitors are well funded and focused on repressing their citizens and undermining democratic govts everywhere”

    Self awareness check.

  2. Canadian Citizen

    24/06/2020 at

    You can’t use CNN as a reference and expect people to believe the information in your article.

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