Trump allies ousted from US-funded news outlets

The dismissals, including at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, are the latest in a series of changes at the US Agency for Global Media.
The dismissals, including at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, are the latest in a series of changes at the US Agency for Global Media.PHOTO: RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY/FACEBOOK

WASHINGTON • The acting chief of the US Agency for Global Media has fired the leaders of multiple federally funded news outlets as part of the Biden administration's sweeping effort to clear the agency of allies of former president Donald Trump.

The acting chief, Ms Kelu Chao, fired the heads of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Network last Friday evening, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

They had been appointed last month by the agency's chief executive at the time, Mr Michael Pack, an ally of former Trump aide Steve Bannon, as part of a broader effort to remove what he believed was partisan bias from the news outlets, reported The New York Times.

Numerous current and former employees at the agency had accused Mr Pack of trying to turn it into a mouthpiece for the Trump administration.

A spokesman for the United States Agency for Global Media declined to comment.

The dismissals are the latest in a series of changes at the agency - and the federally funded news outlets it oversees - under the Biden administration.

Last Thursday, the director of Voice of America (VOA) and his deputy were removed from their posts, and the head of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting also resigned.

A day before that, Mr Pack stepped down at the request of the Biden administration.

Mr Ted Lipien, who ran Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was once a high-ranking official at VOA and became a sharp critic of the media agency.

Mr Stephen Yates, who led Radio Free Asia, was previously chair of the Idaho Republican Party and also served as former vice-president Dick Cheney's deputy national security adviser.

Ms Victoria Coates, who ran the Middle East Broadcasting Network, was a deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration.

After Mr Pack resigned, the Biden administration quickly installed Ms Chao, a long-time employee at Voice of America, to replace him.

Ms Yolanda Lopez, who served as director of the VOA's news centre, was also named as acting head of VOA, succeeding Mr Robert Reilly, who was an appointee of Mr Pack.

The US government spends US$637 million (S$846.22 million) each year to support the five news networks - VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Middle East Broadcasting, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and Radio Free Asia.

They have been regarded as an extension of America's "soft power", but the news they produce has traditionally been regarded to have been free of political control.

VOA alone broadcasts in 47 different languages, with its presence primarily in countries where press freedom is almost non-existent.

The Washington Post reported that one VOA journalist said Mr Pack's resignation triggered "sighs of relief and cheers" among employees.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2021, with the headline 'Trump allies ousted from US-funded news outlets'. Subscribe