Trump appointee cutting visas for 10 journalists with dozens more at risk

James Crump
Michael Pack speaking to Bill Walton in June: (The Bill Walton Show - YouTube)

A total of 10 foreign nationals working as journalists for the US federal government’s international broadcaster, Voice of America (VOA), were told this week that their visas will not be renewed.

Dozens of other journalists who work for the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees VOA’s work, are also at risk of their visas not being extended, according to CBS News.

One VOA journalist told CBS that several staff members had now been left in uncertainty, as they were unsure whether their visas would be renewed when they run out.

“We’re continuing to work without knowing if we’re going to have to leave in the middle of a pandemic in two, three, four weeks, which is very stressful,” they said.

The decision was made by USAGM CEO Michael Pack, who recently announced that he would not be signing off on any visa renewals.

President Donald Trump appointed documentary filmmaker Mr Pack to the CEO position two years ago, but he was only approved by the Senate in June, according to NPR.

Soon after being approved as CEO, Mr Pack dismissed the directors of the agency’s five other divisions, and saw the director and deputy director of VOA resign.

The Trump administration has been critical of VOA in the past and earlier in the year the White House said the broadcaster had “amplified Beijing’s propaganda” by running an article about China’s Covid-19 policies.

Mr Pack’s decision is in line with the administration’s recent policy to limit the amount of people able to get an international visa to live temporarily in the US for work.

Last month the White House said that it would suspend some visas that allow international citizens to come to the US to work, and claimed that it will help ease the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Americans and improve prospects of those looking for employment, according to CBS.

It has become increasingly difficult for journalists in the US during the Trump administration, as the president has criticised several media outlets, often decrying their content as “fake news”.

In the last couple of months, at least 50 journalists, including one from The Independent were arrested while covering Black Lives Matter protests that followed the death of unarmed black man George Floyd.

The Independent’s chief US correspondent Andrew Buncombe was arrested and put in a prison cell while reporting on protests in Seattle, despite covering the demonstration peacefully and repeatedly identifying himself as a journalist to multiple officers.

“The officers took my phone, and told me I was under arrest. I requested several times that they tell me what I was being charged with, and read me my rights. They told me I had the ‘right to remain silent’, but were unable or unwilling to tell me the charge,” Mr Buncombe wrote.

The Committee to Protect Journalists programme director Carlos Martinez de la Serna told The Independent that the group was concerned about the incident and the multiple recent arrests of journalists in the US.

He said: “We are horrified by the continued use of harsh and sometimes violent police actions against journalists who are doing their jobs.”

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I was arrested, jailed and assaulted. My ‘crime’? Being a journalist