Mr. Pack has ignored requests to approve a renewal for a Thai journalist whose visa expired on July 1, as well as a Chinese staffer. Some 100 other VOA news employees depend on J-1 visas to work in the United States for up to several years. Mr. Pack has also frozen all VOA contracts, under which some 40 percent of its staff are employed. A failure to renew the visas and contracts would devastate VOA’s ability to deliver news to foreign audiences, including in authoritarian states where many people depend on U.S. broadcasting for uncensored information.
It could also put the current VOA foreign employees in danger, if they are forced to return to countries whose regimes disapprove of VOA reports. Thailand, for example, is governed by an autocratic regime that regularly imprisons journalists. A VOA staffer in China, which recently shut down the VOA bureau, obtained a visa to the United States with the agency’s help but has been unable to leave the country because of Mr. Pack’s contract freeze.
Mr. Pack and his chief supporter, former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon, have vowed to purge U.S. broadcasters of what they regard as “deep state” elements. Perhaps Mr. Pack believes that requires eliminating VOA’s non-American staff. A USAGM statement, reported by the New York Times, said the hold on visas was meant to “protect U.S. national security.” In fact, Mr. Pack’s actions could put the personal security of dozens of journalists at risk, along with the reputation and integrity of the VOA itself.
Mr. Pack’s leadership purge already raised concerns in Congress. This month a bipartisan group of seven senators, including Republicans Marco Rubio (Fla.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), Jerry Moran (Kan.) and Susan Collins (Maine), dispatched a letter to him objecting to his “termination of qualified, expert staff and network heads for no specific reason.” The senators rightly observed that the United States “cannot afford to invest in an enterprise that denigrates its own journalists and staff to the satisfaction of dictators and despots.” But Mr. Pack isn’t listening: He has resisted testifying at a congressional hearing, and hasn’t answered Hill inquiries about the J-1 visas.
Senators responded by freezing a previously authorized VOA funds transfer. They need to be prepared to do more. Mr. Pack appears intent on gutting U.S. foreign broadcasting while remaining unaccountable to anyone but Mr. Trump.