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SPJ statement on actions taken against VOA editorial independence


Patricia Gallagher Newberry, SPJ National President, 513-702-4065, pattinewberryspj@gmail.com
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – It has become clear from the actions taken at the Voice of America and the Agency for Global Media that the intention of newly appointed Director Michael Pack is to move the agency away from its charter and legal position of providing independent and unbiased reporting to that of a propaganda machine similar to those found in totalitarian states.

“Audiences around the world have depended on VOA for accurate and balanced reporting,” said Society of Professional Journalists National President Patricia Gallagher Newberry. “Most of the audiences accepted VOA reporting over their own local news agencies because VOA has reported on all aspects of American society and policy, even when that reporting conflicts with official U.S. government policy. This independence from political control has been a hallmark of the VOA for more than 70 years.”

The firings and resignations of the entire editorial leadership, including multiple Pulitzer Prize-winner Amanda Bennett, and the Board of Governors at the Agency for Global Media, leave many worrying that VOA and the other broadcast entities governed by the agency will no longer be able to pursue fair, honest and ethical journalism.

While previous administrations have criticized the coverage of VOA when its reporting showed the world the shortcomings in American society and American policy, none has engaged in the full-scale removal of the editorial leadership we have seen this month. This move by Pack and the Trump administration is sending the wrong message to the hard-working journalists in the VOA and to the world. The message is one of intimidation that independent and balanced journalism is not to be tolerated.

Federal law and previous executive orders are in place that are supposed to protect VOA journalists from political influence and control.

“To keep going in the direction that the administration seems set upon will remove the very strength that has established VOA as a highly respected, professional news organization,” said Newberry. “It would be awful if VOA were to become a propaganda arm of the U.S. government.”

Newberry added the resulting loss of credibility would undermine the very mission for which VOA was created.

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