Voice of America Director Amanda Bennett and her top deputy, Sandra Sugawara, resigned Monday, saying that Michael Pack, the newly approved chief executive of VOA’s parent organization, the U.S. Agency for Global Media, has a right to replace them with his own VOA leadership.
Bennett and Sugawara, both veteran journalists, have overseen VOA since 2016, sharply broadening the scope of news and features produced by the U.S. government’s independent news agency on television and radio shows aired in 47 languages around the world and digitally on the voanews.com website.
In their resignation letter, Bennett and Sugawara told VOA’s hundreds of writers, broadcasters, editors and technical staff they had changed the agency for the better over the last four years.
They cited VOA’s “compassionate and compelling quest to tell America’s story; your focus on pushing back on untruths and disinformation around the world; your attention to the stories of women, of refugees and of your press colleagues around the world.”
Bennett and Sugawara told the VOA staff that “nothing about you, your passion, your mission or your integrity, changes” with Pack’s takeover of VOA and other U.S. government media organizations.
“Michael Pack swore before Congress to respect and honor the firewall that guarantees VOA’s independence, which in turn plays the single most important role in the stunning trust our audiences around the world have in us,” Bennett and Sugawara said.
But Pack’s assumption of USAGM control with a recent Senate-approved three-year contract has been rocky.
President Donald Trump named Pack, an associate of one of Trump’s most ardent ideological supporters, former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, to the VOA job more than two years ago. But his approval was blocked by Senate Democrats until recently, in part because of Democratic concerns about alleged financial self-dealing in his businesses.
In recent weeks, Trump has criticized VOA for its news coverage of China during the coronavirus crisis. When asked about the Pack nomination on May 15th, Trump said, “Voice of America is run in a terrible manner. They’re not the Voice of America. They’re the opposite of the Voice of America.”
At the time, Bennett defended the U.S.-funded news agency’s mission and reporting.
“We export the First Amendment to people around the world who have no other access to factual, truthful, believable information,” she said.
“That’s why more than 80% of our 280 million audience in 47 languages in more than 60 countries say they find our work credible,” she added.