Biden administration removes Trump allies 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. PHOTO: RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY/FACEBOOK

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - 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 on Friday evening (Jan 22), according to two people familiar with the matter.

They had been appointed in December by the agency's chief executive at the time, Mr Michael Pack, an ally of former Mr Trump aide Steve Bannon, as part of a broader effort to remove what he believed was partisan bias from the news outlets. 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 spokesperson for the US Agency for Global Media declined to comment.

The dismissals, earlier reported by NPR and Politico, are the latest in a series of changes at the US Agency for Global Media, and the federally funded news outlets it oversees, under the Biden administration.

On Thursday, the director of Voice of America 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.

President Joe Biden had been expected to make significant changes at the media agency. In the waning days of the Trump administration, Voice of America came under criticism for reassigning a White House correspondent who tried to ask former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a question at a town hall event held at the outlet's headquarters in Washington.

After Mr Pack resigned, the Biden administration quickly installed Ms Chao, a longtime employee at Voice of America, to replace him. Ms Yolanda Lopez, who served as director of the VOA's news cenre, was also named as acting head of Voice of America and succeeded Mr Robert Reilly, who had been appointed by Mr Pack.

Mr Pack's tenure at the US Agency for Global Media was marked by significant upheaval. After taking over, he fired the chief executives of four news outlets under his purview, along with their governing board.

He was also accused of purging staff critical of his leadership, starving organisations under his purview from basic funding, and trying to withhold visa approvals for at least 76 foreign journalists at the Voice of America because he had deemed them a security risk.

At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in September, lawmakers from both parties accused Mr Pack of undermining the agency's mission, which includes battling disinformation in places like Russia, China, Hong Kong, North Korea, Iran and Belarus. Mr Pack ignored a congressional subpoena to attend the hearing.

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