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Voice of America CEO worries outlet will revert to Dem bias under Biden

"It's funded after all by the American people," said Michael Pack. "We spend almost a billion dollars a year. We need to represent the full range of views in America, all the time."

Updated: December 4, 2020 - 4:12pm

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The Trump-appointed CEO of the government agency overseeing Voice of America said he is worried that a Biden administration will allow the outlet to revert to the biased and partisan coverage exemplified by a recent VOA video endorsing Democrat Joe Biden. 

Before Michael Pack assumed his leadership role at the U.S. Agency for Global Media in June, the White House in April took the extraordinary step of publicly rebuking Voice of America, the government-funded overseas broadcasting network, accusing it of siding with the Chinese government on the coronavirus pandemic. 

Pack's Senate confirmation in June took years to get over the finish line, with Democrats claiming that the conservative filmmaker would muzzle objective journalists and Pack claiming that VOA was not offering a balanced look at American political life and too often betraying its own mission.

With many news outlets anointing Biden as president-elect, Pack said he worried that under a Biden administration VOA would fail to fulfill its founding charter to "inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy" in line with the "broad foreign policy objectives of the United States." 

"I hope that they continue the reforms that I'm doing," Pack told "Just the News AM" this week. "I fear that they will reverse them ... I think it's hard to sustain this as a taxpayer-funded organization, unless it really does fulfill the charter, and I hope that any new administration, any new team, continues that, but I fear maybe it won't."

In July, Pack's team investigated whether a video posted by Voice of America's Urdu language service violated the U.S. broadcaster's editorial standards and federal laws that govern political activities of government employees.

The video, which contained VOA logos and subtitles in Urdu, included clips of Biden pledging his support for Muslim voters at a July 20 "Million Muslim Votes" event that was organized by nonprofit Emgage Action (which formally endorsed Biden, who praised the endorsement during his video address).

The video did not include any video from President Trump or language from any Republican Muslim. It also included a musical soundtrack with chants of "brown power," even though Islam is a religion and not a race. 

The video was shared on the Urdu service website and social media platforms before being removed by senior journalists at VOA concerned about its content. Pack said that some members of the team producing and overseeing the ad's production were either dismissed or penalized.

"This ad clearly targeted Muslim-Americans in Michigan, and appealed to them to vote for Biden — a clear violation of the VOA Charter, of the Hatch Act, the Smith-Mundt Act," Pack said. "I mean, it was wrong on many levels. I think it's beyond bias."

The Hatch Act bans civil service employees in the executive branch of the federal government, except the president and vice president, from engaging in some forms of political activity. The Smith–Mundt Act circumscribes propaganda activities conducted by the U.S. Department of State, with the law allowing State to communicate to audiences outside of the borders of the United States.

Pack said he was concerned because the video's content appeared to be aimed not at a foreign audience, as required, but at a domestic audience. 

The video also featured Linda Sarsour, a controversial activist who was removed from leadership of the Women's March for her language and association with anti-Semitic individuals. The ad made no mention of her controversies.

"I think that when you have something like that, you at least need to tell your audience about those controversies, not just present them in the montage," Pack said. "She's there with Ilhan Omar and others. And I think we need to do better presenting both sides of these controversies." 

Pack cited a VOA piece on Black Lives Matter targeted to Africa as another example of biased journalism. "It was just a talk about how great Black Lives Matter is by people who were enthusiastic about it," he said. "But there was no sense of the controversy, there was no interviewing with people who are critical of Black Lives Matter, or even any discussion of the ideology that its founders profess.

"And I think that's really bad journalism on top of everything else, and it's particularly inappropriate of a federal agency whose mission is to be objective and present both sides. It's funded after all by the American people. We spend almost a billion dollars a year. We need to represent the full range of views in America, all the time."

Since assuming the helm of the USAGM, a government agency with a budget of more than $800 billion, Pack has tangled with the VOA establishment. In late October, for example, he rolled back a VOA policy blocking him from managing editorial processes. That so-called "firewall" rule was created just before Pack took office. Pack argued it was harmful to both agency and national interests.

"Because of this special mission, USAGM and its Networks do not function as a traditional news or media agency and were never intended to do so," stated Pack's 33-page notice striking down the firewall rule. "By design, their purpose and focus is foreign relations and the promotion of American objectives — not simply presenting news or engaging in journalistic expression." 

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