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Trump appointee cutting 10 visas for international journalists, may not extend dozens more

Trump's new USAGM CEO fires network heads
Trump's new USAGM CEO fires network heads 10:25

Washington — A total of 10 journalists working for the Voice of America, the nation's largest international broadcaster, were informed this week that they will not have their visas renewed and dozens of others who work at networks under the U.S. Agency for Global Media umbrella may not have their visas extended once they expire in the months ahead, according to people familiar with the planning. 

The move is due to a decision by newly-installed USAGM CEO Michael Pack not to sign off on visa renewals. He has sparked increasing concerns by members of Congress and the international community alike over the potential of diminished editorial independence of the VOA news outlet under his leadership. NPR first reported the Visa decisions Thursday. 

The number of visas being stalled may grow in the coming months after CBS News first reported last month that possible cuts to J-1 visas were feared as the result of Pack assuming control of the agency. 

The Trump administration announced it would suspend certain visas that allow foreigners to live in the U.S. temporarily to work, saying the broad restrictions will ease the economic impact of the coronavirus and improve the prospects of Americans looking for employment during the pandemic.

According to a proclamation signed by President Trump, the move adds another layer of sweeping restrictions to an immigration system the administration has worked to overhaul both during and before the pandemic.

These visa decisions coupled with the firing Thursday of Bay Fang, Radio Free Asia's President and top editor, has heightened concern that the firewall that exists between politically appointed management and the journalists themselves is breaking down. 

In the meantime, dozens of USAGM-employed journalists continue reporting on topics that often put them at odds with the leader  of the authoritarian countries into which these news organizations broadcast. Some fear that they will face persecution for their work if they return to their countries or face other safety concerns. 

As one Voice of America journalist told CBS News on Thursday: "We're continuing to work without knowing if we're going to have to leave in the middle of a pandemic in 2, 3, 4 weeks, which is very stressful."

Pack, meanwhile, has criticized recent press coverage of his decisions at USAGM, writing in a New York Post editorial Wednesday that negative assumptions regarding his past work in conservative film productions with Steve Bannon, former White House chief strategist, was unfair. 

"Guilt by association is a McCarthyite tactic," Pack admonished. 

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