USAGM Watch Commentary
In a Letter to the Editor of The Washington Post, a former Voice of America journalist made various accusations against Trump-appointed management of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) and the Voice of America (VOA).
But like the Post, NPR and most of liberal U.S. media, former VOA journalist David McAlary got many things wrong. He appears to accuse the new agency management team of transgressions that were actually committed under the former management team.
The Washington Post article, to which David McAlary referred, also got many of the facts wrong and drew a few wrong conclusions.
Elez Biberaj, whom McAlary praises in his letter, was not “forced out of his position” by Trump-appointed USAGM CEO Michael Pack because Pack himself had selected Biberaj only for a temporary acting director assignment until he could find a new permanent director. Biberaj has returned to his former position of VOA Eurasia Division director after Pack picked Robert Reilly who already had served once as VOA director in 2001-2002. Elez Biberaj was very much a member of the previous management team and has posted publicly about his personal links to Democratic Party politicians.
Regarding the Dec. 9 Style article “Interim director of VOA forced out of position”:
Elez Biberaj, a longtime colleague of mine at Voice of America, originally worked in the Albanian-language service and told me that on a visit to his homeland, he was driven off the road and nearly killed, apparently by state thugs who condemned his broadcasts of the truth. I’m sure he never envisioned that he’d have to face American jackboots who likewise deplore his support of the truth.
Perhaps unbeknownst to David McAlary, The Washington Post, and NPR, almost all violations of the VOA Charter occurred over a period of several years under the watch of managers whom Mr. McAlary defends, and almost none under the new management. Obviously, Mr. McAlary is not responsible for any of these abuses, but we think that he should have taken more time to study VOA programming under former USAGM CEO John Lansing and former VOA director Amanda Bennett.
We fully agree with Mr. McAlary that the “VOA charter, enshrined in a 1976 law, requires it to be unbiased and report all sides of an issue, thus representing our values as a democracy and preventing VOA from becoming a presidential propagandist that foreign listeners would tune out.”
That’s why we have pointed out before that VOA should not have produced and posted not one but several one-sided and unbalanced U.S. election campaign ads in 2016 and 2020 and did so in violation of the VOA Charter. Some of them were produced in the VOA Eurasia Division.
VOA directors and managers should not have met with corrupt foreign leaders, especially those who openly interfere in U.S. elections.
VOA reporters, one of them from the VOA Eurasia Division, should not have been companions of U.S. officials and politicians on foreign trips with knowledge and approval of VOA and agency executives and managers.
VOA reports should not have condoned physical violence against U.S. politicians or violence against any U.S. or foreign public figure or any person.
VOA should not have protected a foreign ambassador who interfered in U.S. elections by refusing to cover the story.
VOA reporters and editors should not have posted partisan appeals on social media.
VOA directors should not have publicly stated on official USG platforms their support for their favorite personal causes over which Americans are deeply divided.
VOA reporters and managers should not have publicly highlighted their personal links to U.S. and foreign politicians while still working for VOA.
These are some of the examples of what happened between 2016 and 2020 but not under the direction of any “American jackboots,” as our esteemed former colleague calls them. It happened under the former management team at BBG/USAGM and under VOA managers who were members of that team.
“VOA and the other networks need to be fair, objective and balanced—not pro-Trump, not pro-Biden, not pro-anybody,” top USAGM executive Michael Pack said recently in an interview. “They need to be fair and balanced.”
We expect any USAGM CEO to fulfill this promise, including the current one during his three-year term unless he is replaced by the Biden administration under a new legislation that may soon become law. We will expect the same from any new USAGM CEO. The same legislation, if it becomes law, would allow the current VOA director to keep his position until a new bipartisan agency oversight board is created and may or may not decide to appoint someone else to replace him.
The most recent former USAGM CEO and the former VOA director remained at the agency more than three years into the Trump administration. Under the U.S democratic system, it is now somebody else’s turn to carry out management reforms to eliminate violations of the VOA Charter described earlier. Current leaders should not be accused of transgressions which happened under somebody else’s watch and for which the USAGM and VOA executives who criticize them should accept responsibility and be held accountable.