The US Senate confirmed on Thursday for the post of executive director of the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), the former director of the Voice of America, Amanda Bennett, who was appointed by President Joe Biden. By 60 to 36, the Senate, closely controlled by Democrats, approved Ms. Bennett to serve a three-year term as head of the federal agency that oversees VOA and other international broadcasting entities.
After the vote, USAGM Acting Executive Director Kelu Chao praised Ms. Bennett’s experience and vision and said she is the right person to help the agency “address threats to independent media and reach audiences in need.” “.
“Today more than ever, people around the world need USAGM’s fact-based news to triumph over growing disinformation and censorship. I and our entire agency welcome Amanda at this crucial moment for freedom and democracy,” said Ms. Chao.
About 394 million people access USAGM programs each week. The federally funded agency overseen by the United States Congress has two federal entities, VOA and the Office of Broadcasting for Cuba, and four non-profit organizations – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Eastern Broadcasting Network Middle School and the Open Technology Fund.
Ms. Bennett has served as an executive editor at Bloomberg News and was editor-in-chief of The Oregonian. She has also been a reporter for The Wall Street Journal for more than two decades, including as a Beijing correspondent. She is the author of six nonfiction books and has twice shared the Pulitzer Prize with her colleagues, in 1997 for The Wall Street Journal and again in 2001 for The Oregonian.
She served as director of VOA from 2016 before stepping down in June 2020, before Michael Pack took over as executive director of USAGM. Mr. Pack was appointed by then-President Donald Trump.
Mr Pack appointed Robert Reilly in December 2020 to succeed Ms Bennett. Minutes after President Biden took the oath of office on January 20, 2021, he asked Mr. Pack to resign and named VOA program director Kelu Chao as USAGM’s acting executive director. Ms. Chao fired Mr. Reilly as VOA director a day later.
Ms. Bennett has faced criticism from some Republicans since her June 7 confirmation hearing, when she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she would advance USAGM’s mission of objectivity and balanced reporting at a time when disinformation is on the rise globally.
The America First Legal Foundation, a center-right nonprofit founded by former senior administration officials of former President Donald Trump, urged Mr. Biden to withdraw Ms. Bennett’s nomination, citing allegations of “national security and failings associated with it” when she was the director of VOA.
The group’s main criticism is that Ms. Bennett ran USAGM’s largest network, VOA, at a time when other government departments warned USAGM executives about “deficiencies” in the security clearances of agency employees, some of which with sensitive posts.
A July 2020 report from the Office of Personnel Management found that the security clearance process for 1,527 USAGM employees, or about 40% of their workforce, had been flawed over the previous 10 years, prompting the Office of Management to strip USAGM of its authority to conduct self-vetigation of its employees.
After her nomination to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was approved, Republican Senator Marco Rubio told VOA:
“I had some questions about how (VOA) handled the interview with the well-known Chinese dissident when she was director there,” he said.
Senator Rubio was referring to Ms. Bennett’s decision in 2017 to cut short a planned three-hour live interview by VOA with exiled Chinese billionaire and prominent Beijing critic Guo Wengui, and to fire the chief of the then-Mandarin Service chief Sasha Gong and other staff who had objected to the guidelines regarding the length and handling of the interview.
Ms Bennett’s critics accused her of bowing to pressure from the Chinese government to silence Mr Guo. But VOA’s public affairs office said a third-party review of the incident “concludes that the decision to limit the live interview was based solely on and consistent with best journalistic practices.”
Ms. Bennett’s nomination was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee en bloc this June, meaning she was approved along with the other nominees without a recorded vote.
“Her leadership is essential at a time of resurgent authoritarianism around the world – to ensure that people living under repressive regimes not only have access to accurate information, but also see an excellent model of journalism in practice,” American ambassador Karen Kornbluh, former member of the USAGM board of directors, told VOA earlier this year./VOA
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