U.S. Broadcasting Agency Will Not Extend Visas For Its Foreign Journalists

Dozens of foreign nationals working as journalists in the U.S. for Voice of America, the federal government’s international broadcaster, will not have their visas extended once they expire, according to three people with knowledge of the decision.

Those with knowledge of the decision say the new CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, Michael Pack, signaled he will not approve the visa extensions. Also Wednesday, according to those with knowledge of the decision, Pack ordered the dismissal of former Radio Free Asia chief Bay Fang, whom Pack had previously demoted. The sources asked not to be identified because of a fear of retaliation.

The foreign journalists are particularly valued for their language skills, which are crucial to VOA’s mission as an international broadcaster. One VOA journalist who asked not to be named because of a fear of retaliation, said some of the foreign journalists forced to return home would likely face repercussions from regimes hostile to the U.S.

The decision conforms with the administration’s general policy of seeking to limit work visas for the U.S. out of a stated concern they take jobs away from Americans. The policy is opposed by many businesses which rely on the expertise of foreign employees.

A spokesman for the agency did not respond to requests for comment.

President Trump nominated Pack, a documentary filmmaker allied with the president, two years ago to be CEO of the international broadcasting agency but was only confirmed by the Senate last month. Upon taking office Pack dismissed the directors of all the agency’s divisions: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; Radio Free Asia; Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which oversees Radio and Television Martí; Middle East Broadcasting Networks, which runs Alhurra and Radio Sawa; and the Open Technology Fund, which promotes Internet access around the world, even though the fund’s director had planned to retire in July.

The director and deputy director of Voice of America resigned shortly before Pack took office, saying he should be able to appoint his own executives to run the broadcaster.

Trump and his administration have been increasingly critical of Voice of America. Trump ally and former White House official Steve Bannon, in a 2018 interview with the Los Angeles Times said, “VOA is a rotten fish from top to bottom.” He added, “It’s now totally controlled by the deep-state apparatus.”

The White House claimed in a formal statement in April that VOA had “amplified Beijing’s propaganda” by running an Associated Press article about COVID-19 policies in China.

Prominent Democrats, including House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Eliot Engel of New York, had warned Pack against politicizing the agency. The agency’s old bipartisan board issued federal rules on June 11 stating with more specificity the firewall and journalistic standards intended to protect the news services’ reports. It now stands as federal policy.

That board, however, was dissolved as Pack took over as CEO.

*story by NPR