October 1, 2020

Trump Appointee Might Not Extend Visas for Foreign Journalists at V.O.A.

WASHINGTON — As many as 100 foreign citizens working in the United States as journalists for the Voice of America, a government-funded news outlet, might not have their visas extended once they expire, according to people familiar with the planning.

Michael Pack, the new chief executive for the U.S. Agency for Global Media, has indicated he may not approve extensions for any journalist holding a J-1 visa, which allows foreign citizens to temporarily work in the United States in ways that promote cultural exchanges.

The decision could be a blow to the news-gathering and global-broadcasting abilities of the V.O.A., which operates independently but is funded by the government. Foreign journalists on the specialty visa are often recruited to work there because they are able to translate American news reports into languages like Swahili or Mandarin and can do reporting using those languages.

“J-1 visas are a crucial tool for management to get the talent that is needed to run a complex multilingual news organization,” said David Ensor, a former director for the Voice of America. “That’s what V.O.A. is.”

In a statement, a spokesman for the U.S. Agency for Global Media said it was conducting a comprehensive assessment of those workers who hold J-1 visas. The move was meant to improve “agency management and protect U.S. national security,” he said, and to do so, it was “imperative to determine that hiring authorities and personnel practices are not misused.”

The planning was described by people with knowledge of the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the actions were pending.

The discussion on the visas, first reported by NPR, follows the firing on Wednesday of Bay Fang, who became executive editor of Radio Free Asia after Mr. Pack removed her last month as president of the organization. She was asked to leave the organization by the acting president, Parameswaran Ponnudurai, who had recently met with Mr. Pack, according to people familiar with the actions.

Ms. Fang was one of the chiefs of four U.S.-funded news organizations and a technology group whom Mr. Pack removed on June 17, in a decision that angered Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

Those four organizations and V.O.A. are overseen by the global media agency. The director of V.O.A. and her deputy resigned in June after Mr. Pack was confirmed by the Senate.

Mr. Pack also dismissed the bipartisan boards of the organizations on June 17 and named successors, almost all of whom are Trump administration political appointees.

Last week, Mr. Pack also named James M. Miles, a former secretary of state for South Carolina, to lead the Open Technology Fund, an internet freedom nonprofit under Mr. Pack’s purview.

Mr. Miles is little known in the internet freedom community and his hiring was not accepted by the organization’s staff, according to a letter the group’s general counsel wrote to Mr. Pack, which was obtained by The New York Times.

The actions by Mr. Pack have raised questions about the editorial independence of the news outlets under his management. Mr. Pack, a conservative filmmaker, is a close ally of Stephen K. Bannon, a former campaign strategist and White House adviser to President Trump who has pressed Mr. Trump to take charge of the government-funded news organizations and reshape them.

Mr. Bannon has also publicly criticized V.O.A., calling it “a rotten fish from top to bottom.”

Mr. Pack’s recent actions have been challenged in the courts by the Open Technology Fund. A federal judge ruled last week in Mr. Pack’s favor. The plaintiffs filed an appeal on Thursday.

Pranshu Verma reported from Washington, and Edward Wong from Lewes, Del.