Press Leaders Decry Assault on Global Media Agency

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29, 2020--National Press Club leaders denounced an attempt by the Trump administration to take away the independence of news outlets such as the Voice of America.

Michael Pack, the chief of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees VoA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other news organizations, rescinded on Monday a rule that established a firewall between the agency's journalists and its management—a separation that is standard practice in the media. 

“This move would explicitly jettison the reportorial independence that has differentiated U.S.-government funded news outlets from authoritarian nations’ propaganda arms,” said Michael Freedman, president of the National Press Club. “Unless this is reversed, outlets like the VoA will lose credibility worldwide.”

Pack’s revocation of the firewall rule comes on the heels of his recent purge of the leadership ranks in the agency’s news organizations and his refusal to renew visas for foreign journalists the agency employs. 

“The attack on the U.S. Agency for Global Media tarnishes news outlets that have for many years independently published news without fear or favor,” said Angela Greiling Keane, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, the Club’s non-profit affiliate. “Undermining the agency's news outlets will deprive people around the world of a critical source of news--in some places, one of their only reliable sources of information.”

The U.S. Agency for Global Media's bipartisan board of directors had approved the rule in June. The board contended that maintaining a "firewall" between politics and news was “essential to ensuring the continued credibility and therefore effectiveness of the journalism.”

But Pack has said he needed to rescind the rule because it made his agency "difficult to manage" and that the rule "threatened constitutional values." 

In a memo outlining the change, the agency said its news organizations are not traditional sources of journalism and were never intended to be that.  

“By design, their purpose and focus is foreign relations and the promotion of American objectives--not simply presenting news or engaging in journalistic expression,” the agency said.

The agency's outlets also include the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks. The networks estimate their broadcasts, websites and news stories reach more than 350 million people across the world each week.

The National Press Club is the World’s Leading Professional Organization For Journalists. Founded in 1908, the Club has almost 3,000 members worldwide representing nearly every leading news organization.

Through its Press Freedom Team, the Club defends journalists and promotes transparency.

The Club and the National Press Club Journalism Institute form a powerful voice for press freedom worldwide. The Institute promotes an engaged global citizenry through an independent and free press, and equips journalists with skills and standards to inform the public in ways that inspire civic engagement.

Contact: John M. Donnelly, NPC Press Freedom Chairman: [email protected], 202 650 6738.