New Conservative Media Chief Dismisses Heads of U.S. News Agencies

WASHINGTON — A conservative filmmaker who recently took over a United States global media agency removed the chiefs of four news organizations under its purview on Wednesday night, according to people with knowledge of the decision, in an action that raises questions about their editorial independence.

The filmmaker, Michael Pack, also dismissed the head of a technology group and disbanded the bipartisan board that helps oversee and advise those five organizations. He replaced its members largely with Trump administration political appointees, including himself as chairman. One board member works for a conservative advocacy organization, Liberty Counsel Action.

The moves were criticized by congressional officials, including a leading Democratic senator, and former diplomats as an effort to turn the news organizations under the United States Agency for Global Media into partisan outlets. The organizations receive funding from the American government but operate independently.

Mr. Pack is a close ally of Stephen K. Bannon, the former campaign strategist and White House adviser to President Trump who has urged Mr. Trump to take charge of the news organizations and reshape them to his purposes. Democrats in the Senate held up Mr. Pack’s nomination for years, but Mr. Trump urged Republicans in recent weeks to push through the confirmation.

The Republican-led Senate confirmed Mr. Pack this month in a party-line vote, despite the recent disclosure of legal problems surrounding him. Last month, the attorney general for the District of Columbia said his office was investigating whether Mr. Pack had illegally enriched himself by sending $1.6 million from the Public Media Lab, a nonprofit group he oversees, to his for-profit film production company.

The organizational heads dismissed Wednesday night were Bay Fang of Radio Free Asia; Jamie Fly of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; Alberto M. Fernandez of Middle East Broadcasting Networks; Emilio Vazquez of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting; and Libby Liu of the Open Technology Fund.

Ms. Fang is expected to remain as executive editor at Radio Free Asia for now because of a condition set by the previous corporate board when she was appointed the agency’s president in November. Mr. Vazquez, who had been an interim director, will also stay at his organization, according to one person. Both could be fired later by new permanent chiefs of the organizations whom Mr. Pack would appoint.

Mr. Fernandez, a former ambassador, wrote on Twitter late Wednesday that he was proud of his work at Middle East Broadcasting Networks.

“I accomplished ALMOST everything I wanted and you can’t say that too often in life,” he added.

Mr. Fly is a well-known foreign policy official who was a longtime adviser to Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida.

A representative of the U.S. Agency for Global Media did not return an email request seeking comment on Wednesday night.

Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, denounced Mr. Pack in a statement on Wednesday night.

“The wholesale firing of the agency’s network heads, and disbanding of corporate boards to install President Trump’s political allies, is an egregious breach of this organization’s history and mission from which it may never recover,” he said.

“This latest attack is sadly the latest — but not the last — in the Trump administration’s efforts to transform U.S. institutions rooted in the principles of democracy into tools for the president’s own personal agenda,” Mr. Menendez added.

Brett Bruen, a former career diplomat and director of global engagement on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, pointed to the “long history of bipartisanship” of the news organizations in criticizing Mr. Pack’s move. “They don’t present a Republican or Democratic voice to the world,” he said. “They have always put forward an American, a credible voice.”

“Pack appears to have tossed that hard-fought reputation out the window,” he added. “You don’t get it back in years or even decades. It’s gone.”

On Monday, Amanda Bennett, the director of Voice of America, and Sandra Sugawara, the deputy director, resigned. Voice of America, the largest American international broadcaster, is overseen by the global media agency, and it had come under extraordinary attack from the White House in recent months. Administration officials had falsely accused it of disseminating Chinese propaganda. In fact, Beijing has consistently criticized its reporting and imposed visa restrictions on its journalists.

Ms. Liu, the chief executive of the Open Technology Fund, which promotes internet freedom around the world, offered her resignation on Saturday, and it was accepted by the group’s board that day. She had said she would stay until mid-July, but in replacing the board on Wednesday, Mr. Pack asked for her immediate dismissal.

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