Voice of America Fires the people who tried to broadcast Chinese dissident Live for over 1 hour…

Golda Velez
Nov 29, 2018 · 6 min read

A year ago, Voice of America (VOA) was broadcasting a live interview with Chinese dissident Guo Wengui. He would only speak live, because the Chinese government has a habit of removing or blocking any criticisms that are accessible on the web. But a live broadcast, that was being sent out over VOA, would be hard to block or at least obvious if it was blocked. And, indeed, the plug was pulled right in the middle of the broadcast.

And now, the people responsible were fired. Oh, you thought I meant the people responsible for pulling the plug? No, silly, the people responsible for trying to broadcast live criticism into China were fired by our own Voice of America.

Open thread below if you want some details. Google Guo Wengui or the GFW (Great FireWall) if you want to learn more background. Guo might or might not be the greatest guy, but having him speak live and be heard definitely had value for people in China who don’t get to hear criticism of their government — like ever. Here’s a story CNN ran about it at the time.

On Thu, Nov 29, 2018 at 10:41 AM Bridget Serchak <BSerchak@voanews.com> wrote:

All,

As you had previously contacted VOA regarding this matter, we wanted to provide you this latest statement (please see below) as it was just sent out via email to the VOA and USAGM (formerly known as BBG) workforce.

Please feel free to contact me directly for any follow up and/or a request to speak to VOA Director Amanda Bennett on this matter.

Regards,

Bridget

****************************

Bridget Ann Serchak Director of Public Relations Voice of America

U.S. Agency for Global Media

(formerly Broadcasting Board of Governors) 330 Independence Avenue, S.W. Washington, D.C. 20237

****************************

Friends –

Voice of America has today removed one Mandarin Service employee and given a period of suspension to another. Both actions relate to the April 19, 2017, Mandarin service interview with Guo Wengui — a Chinese business tycoon who later became a political activist — that was abruptly terminated.

The actions follow four independent investigations that all concluded the interview’s termination was a result of VOA leadership’s attempt to enforce previously agreed-upon journalistic standards. The investigations found no evidence to support allegations that pressure from the Chinese government, purportedly driven by “spies” within VOA, had caused the termination.

Rather, the investigations upheld the actions by VOA leadership, concluding that the unprofessional abrupt termination resulted from a series of apparent failures to follow explicit instructions from management and good journalistic practices.

The failure to comply with leadership’s instructions during the Guo interview “was a colossal and unprecedented violation of journalistic professionalism and broadcast industry standards,” concluded one outside report by Professor Mark Feldstein, Richard Eaton Chair of Broadcast Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park, and a journalist with decades of experiences as an award-winning television investigative reporter.

In this era of so-called “fake news” and interference by authoritarian governments into the workings of the global free press, allegations of outside tampering with content are very serious and have the potential to undermine the credibility of VOA, whose charter requires that it “serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news.”

Thus, VOA and USAGM management immediately launched independent investigations. In accordance with Federal laws and regulations, five members of the broadcast team were placed on leave with full pay and benefits while the matter was under investigation.

VOA decided to take the disciplinary action against the two following a review of the evidentiary record, which included the Mandarin Service broadcast team members’ written and oral replies to the charges against them. Disciplinary proceedings against the other two Service members for alleged improper conduct are continuing in accordance with applicable Federal laws and regulations. No determinations have been made with respect to the charges against them. On August 30, 2017, one member of the broadcast team returned to work from leave after a comprehensive investigation concluded that this person had a minor role in the proceedings.

The investigations included:

o A three-month administrative inquiry conducted by outside counsel, which included 23 interviews with key members of VOA leadership and the Mandarin Service; a comprehensive document review, including contemporaneously prepared witness statements; and the preparation of an 85-page report, which detailed the events leading up to the Guo interview in nearly minute-by-minute detail. The investigation found sufficient factual evidence to conclude that the broadcast’s termination resulted from repeated failures to follow VOA management instructions and a disregard of VOA’s journalistic Best Practices guide.

o An internal security review, which rebutted unsubstantiated allegations that elements of the Chinese government had infiltrated VOA and compelled the interview to be censored or cut short. The security review found no evidence to support these allegations.

o Several Members of Congress also requested the Office of Inspector General perform an impartial and thorough investigation. The OIG concluded that the decision to curtail the Guo interview was based solely on journalistic best practices rather than any pressure from the Chinese government.

o The expert witness analysis by Professor Feldstein of the School of Journalism at University of Maryland, College Park. Professor Feldstein concluded that “VOA’s senior management did its best to make decisions consistent with journalism’s best practices and industry standards,” and “was not improperly influenced by the Chinese government or anyone else.” Based on his review of the evidentiary record he also issued the following opinion:

· There had been “a grossly negligent approach” to pre-interview vetting and failure to “corroborate the authenticity of Guo’s evidence or interview other sources” in violation of industry standards.

· The interview team apparently “demonstrated greater loyalty to its source than to its employer — at the expense of basic journalistic standards of accuracy, verification, and fairness.”

The details of the broadcast in question are as follows:

On April 19, 2017, members of VOA’s Mandarin Service conducted a live televised interview with Chinese political activist Guo Wengui. Guo, who has lived in self-imposed exile in New York since 2015, is an active critic of the Chinese government, alleging corruption and political persecution on the part of its leaders. While many of his allegations have proved correct, others have proved impossible to verify.

In light of Guo’s reputation, VOA leadership had concerns about the Mandarin interview team’s initial proposal to conduct a three-hour long live interview with Guo. A live interview of this length, VOA leadership believed, would increase the likelihood that accusations would be broadcast without the opportunity to vet the accusations for accuracy or giving the other side the opportunity to respond — a clear breach of journalistic ethics. Consequently, VOA leadership issued specific instructions to the interview team to (1) limit the interview to no more than one hour, (2) prohibit any extension of the interview over social media, and (3) prohibit any use of unverified documentation or materials during the broadcast. (4) continue to tape the interview for as long as necessary to produce material for later, properly vetted, broadcast.

Despite these specific and repeated instructions, the Guo interview continued past the one-hour mark through use of a social media livestream. During the interview, recordings provided by Guo that had never been authenticated were played.

The VOA Charter mandates that VOA “serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news.” VOA internal guidance explains that “[t]he accuracy, quality and credibility of the Voice of America are its most important assets,” such that “VOA employees should carry out their work with the utmost professionalism.”

VOA employees are required by law to conduct their work in accordance with the highest professional standards of broadcast journalism. A failure to perform necessary diligence prior to a controversial and sensitive interview, and disregard of managerial instructions issued in accordance with best practices and industry standard, violates this directive.

The integrity and reliability of VOA’s journalism is of paramount concern to VOA leadership, as evinced by the exhaustive investigation undertaken in this case. While disciplinary action is always regrettable, VOA believes it to be both necessary and appropriate in these cases.

My best,

Amanda

Amanda Bennett

VOA Director

My response:

Uh — so you’re saying they did cut it short, against leadership direction, and they are being fired for that?

You do realize the reason he would only speak live is so that his words couldn’t be edited or suppressed…

The leadership said to restrict it to 1 hour, and the guys on the ground didn’t want to do that. I get that. Because anything taped, would be yanked off social media before anyone in China would get to listen to it! This is a different situation than normal journalism, where there basically is no information except what is live. I thought VOA of all people would understand that!

Sorry, I find this explanation extremely disconcerting.

— Golda

Golda Velez

Written by

Mom, Software Engineer, Tucsonan. Like connection, community, fun and algorithms for increasing opportunity. Also for identifying bullshit. @gvelez17