On Thursday, U.S. lawmakers held an oversight hearing in Washington to examine VOICE of America’s parent company, THE United States Global Media Organization (USAGM), and other U.S.-funded media networks.
Eliot Engel, the New York Democrat who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, subpoenaed Michael Pack, the CHIEF executive of the USAGM, to appear in court to answer questions from lawmakers. Parker said he was unable to attend because of a scheduling conflict.
In addition to Mr Parker, other invitees include former executives who resigned or were fired shortly after he took over in June. They include Amanda Bennett, a former head of VOICE of America; Jamie Fly, former chairman of Radio Free Europe; and Karen Kornbluh, who chairs the Board of the Open Technology Fund (OTF).
Parker is a filmmaker and former public television executive who worked with former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon. After taking the helm at USAGM in June, he immediately embarked on a major overhaul of the media organizations he oversees, including Voice of America, whose directors and associate directors resigned shortly after Parker took over. A number of top executives have been suspended because of lax security and background checks on the employees. In addition to dissolve USAGM affiliate news agency head and dissolution of its supervisory board, parker also refused to work for in the voice of America and other media of dozens of foreign journalists to renew visa, he suggests that visa renewals must wait for a new security review procedures, he warns this summer, media organizations are “good place to put foreign spies”, some of the reporters may be a spy. He also withheld grants from the Open Technology Fund, an independent nonprofit dedicated to Internet freedom. He refused to sign basic contracts for global facilities such as cleaning supplies and toilet paper.
Parker also said a government audit found that the agency’s former leaders failed to address serious security issues over the years. “USAGM faces a decade of mismanagement that has jeopardized the organization’s viability and the security of our nation,” he said in a statement this month. “While I inherited this mess, I am committed to cleaning it up and making the USAGM work for the American people once again.”
Grant Turner, UAGM’s former chief financial officer, who was placed on administrative leave in mid-August, said: “In my 17 years [as a career government employee], from the time Mark Parker became CHIEF executive of USAGM, serious mismanagement, abuse of power and illegal conduct have taken place.” “I am concerned that [Mr Parker’s] mismanagement will continue to erode the agency’s performance.” Asked what parker’s goal was, he said, “There’s no real strategy in place yet.”
Jamie Fly, a former RFA President who was fired in July, said: “I have only been in the presidency for 10 months and although a once-in-a-century epidemic has seriously affected our operations, we have made real progress in increasing our audience, expanding investigative journalism and developing new tools to combat disinformation.” “All this work came to an abrupt end in mid-June, just days after the Senate confirmed Parker as CEO.”
As a result, the agency’s objective reporting and credibility are at risk, which in turn could influence how foreign competitors view the US. Morale among employees was’ pretty low, ‘Ms. Grant said, as they were intimidated by packing and some feared losing their jobs.
Karen Kornbluh, chairman of the Open Technology Fund’s board, says Parker’s decision to withhold nearly $20 million in congressional appropriations has forced OTF to halt 49 of its 60 programs aimed at fighting censorship and surveillance under repressive regimes. “In just four months, OTF, the world’s largest technology sponsor of Internet freedom, has been dissolved, and Internet freedom in the United States and Internet democracy around the world has been weakened,” she told the hearing. According to the Washington Post, OTF has filed a lawsuit in federal claims court challenging the legality of Parker’s move
Republican and Democratic lawmakers have expressed concern about UAGM’s firing of its top media chief and its refusal to extend visas for foreign journalists, issues that other critics say undermine the editorial independence of the U.S. -funded news networks that broadcast to foreign audiences.
Mr. Parker is understood to have skipped the hearing because he arranged an executive hearing for reporters from VOA’s Urdu service, who broadcast a video deemed favorable to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Mr. Trump had previously given interviews to VOA, but starting this spring, the White House began criticizing the media, in part for its coverage of the epidemic. “Voice of America often represents America’s adversaries, not Its citizens,” the White House said in a newsletter.
USAGM’s news organizations broadcast new radio and Internet articles to more than 300 million people overseas, including the United States’ main geopolitical rivals, Russia, China and Iran. Amanda Bennett, the former head of VOICE of America, said at the hearing that USAGM media, unlike government-sponsored news organizations in China and elsewhere, has longstanding rules and practices that form a firewall designed to keep publicly funded news organizations independent.
Mr. Parker’s approach has put him at odds with members of Congress and policy makers, who say u.s.-funded media outlets provide an independent alternative to local government-sponsored news for foreign citizens. Several lawmakers said Mr. Parker’s management prevented the agency from reporting and broadcasting in Belarus and other countries where dissidents rely on local government-sponsored broadcasts.
“Parker is making a mockery of an American institution that has long enjoyed bipartisan support,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “He should resign, and if he doesn’t resign, the President should fire him.”
Representative Scott Perry, Republican of Pennsylvania, noted that at USAGM, there were long-term problems before Parker took office. He supported Mr Parker’s efforts to clean up the commission and criticised past misbehaviour. He cites a report released in August by the Office of Personnel Management detailing the agency’s long-term problems with Personnel reviews. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I don’t want to put all the blame on Puck.”
But Representative Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, took issue with Parker’s approach. If there is a problem, “you can’t disband and purge the organization.”