Foreign journalists at Voice of America, the government-funded international broadcaster, will not have their visas renewed when they expire, according to a report by NPR. The decision from Michael Pack, the new CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media that oversees VOA, affects the jobs of about 100 noncitizen journalists, who could face repercussions if forced to return to their home countries. Bay Fang, the former Radio Free Asia chief whom Pack had demoted in June, was also dismissed.
VOA airs in more than 40 languages, including Mandarin, Russian, Persian, and Turkish, and the knowledge and language skills of its foreign journalists are invaluable to the network’s reporting and production. Employees fear that the move could jeopardize non-English language programs, many of which cover stories unable to be reported and published in authoritarian countries. The Washington Post reports that some of the journalists’ J-1 visas expire this month and that renewals have been routine in the past. A spokesperson for the U.S. Agency for Global Media did not respond to NPR’s request for comment.
Pack’s decision falls in line with other moves by the Trump administration, which has repeatedly striven to curb work visas that it says takes jobs from American citizens. Last month, the Trump administration temporarily suspended several types of visas—including the VOA journalists’ J-1 and the H-1B for high-skilled workers—citing job losses from the coronavirus pandemic. But the Post notes that this ban is only on new visas, and it’s not clear whether it affects existing ones. And NPR notes that VOA typically only hires foreign nationals when it cannot find U.S. citizens to do the jobs.
President Donald Trump nominated Pack for the top slot at the U.S. Agency for Global Media in 2018, but the Senate did not confirm Pack until last month. Pack was previously a documentary filmmaker and conservative activist in political alignment with Trump, who hasn’t been shy about disparaging VOA. In April, the White House accused the network of peddling Chinese propaganda. During a press conference, Trump told reporters, “If you heard what’s coming out of the Voice of America, it’s disgusting. Things they say are disgusting toward our country.”
Shortly after taking the reins, Pack sacked the directors of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and the Open Technology Fund, and both VOA’s director, Amanda Bennett, and deputy director, Sandra Sugawara, resigned (Bennett is the spouse of Donald Graham of Graham Holdings, which owns Slate).
Update, July 10, 2020: This post has been updated to clarify Bay Fang’s dismissal.