Trump-backed US global media agency chief under fire for purge | News | DW | 19.06.2020
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Trump-backed US global media agency chief under fire for purge

Michael Pack has been hit with an unprecedented wave of criticism after he fired several top faces at Radio Free Europe and Middle East Broadcasting Networks. Analysts have called Pack's actions 'asinine' and 'shameful'.

The new chief of the US-funded global media agency has been hit with a wave of conservative criticism, over his decision to fire the head of two international broadcasters.

Michael Pack, who defended his moves to shake up the agency which heads Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, is now facing scrutiny on the part of US President Donald Trump supporters, who backed Pack's nomination to run the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM).

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Trump allies, including former adviser Sebastian Gorka, have offered public support for the former head of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Alberto Fernandez, while others have decried the termination of the head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Jamie Fly. Both were fired by Pack on Wednesday, as he terminated others outlets, including the Cuba-focused Radio/TV Marti.

The head of the USAGM-owned Open Technology Funds (OTF), Libby Liu, also stepped down. OTF supports technology NGOs that have built several Internet freedom projects and tools that are part of Germany's coronavirus tracing App.

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Defending Fernandez

The firing of Fernandez has particularly enraged conservatives, who saw the career diplomat as bringing balance to the Arabic-language outlets AlHurra television and Radio Sawa.

"Ambassador Fernandez was the greatest asset America had in foreign broadcasting,'' Gorka wrote on Twitter after the dismissals were made public.

Michael Doran, a former National Security Council and State Department official during President George W. Bush's administration, said the firing was "asinine," adding that without Fernandez "Pack will be as effective as a drugged bug in a bottle."

David Reaboi, a conservative national security analyst, called the firing "shameful," telling AP news agency that it was "unusual for the pro-American side to get represented, and Alberto always made sure it did," he tweeted.

"Michael Pack gets confirmed by the senate and, rather than take stock and talk to people who know what's happening, he fired everybody ... Shameful," he said.

Fly's dismissal also caught the criticism of Mark Dubowitz, an advocate of Trump's hawkish foreign policies on Iran.

"Poor decision to fire @AlbertoMiguelF5 and @jamiemfly whose exemplary leadership... made America's public diplomacy more effective, more persuasive and more consistent with American interests and values."

Fears over editorial independence

The shakeup has raised concerns that Pack will seek to end the editorial independence of the outlets, which serve countries that lack a free press.

Pack also dissolved the oversight boards of the organizations at the agency, which is government funded but structured to operate with editorial independence- He also ousted the head of the Open Technology Fund, a non-broadcast arm of the agency that works to provide secure internet access to people around the world.

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Voice of America director Amada Bennett and deputy director Sandy Sugawara both announced their resignations on Monday, as Pack prepared to take up his new position.

"That Mr. Pack took this drastic measure in his first week on the job is shocking, and we have deep concerns that he takes the helm of a critical agency with the intent to prioritize the Trump administration's political whims over protecting and promoting independent reporting, which is a pillar of freedom and democracy," said Eliot Engel chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Nita Lowey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

Read more: US attack on press freedom gains supporters

lc/rt (AP, AFP)