CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) announces that he will remove the “firewall” regulation designed to protect the editorial independence of government-funded broadcasters.

The federal regulation, titled ‘Firewall and Highest Standards of Professional Journalism’ was put in place in June by a board of governors to insulate the editorial independence of the U.S.-funded media outlets from political interference. Outlets covered by the regulation included Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/FL), which are overseen by USAGM.

But in a statement issued on Monday night, the agency’s CEO, Michael Pack, announced that he would repeal the regulation. He described it as “flawed” and harmful to the “U.S. national interest”, arguing that the “rule prohibited the CEO from engaging in managerial and editorial oversight, which Congress mandated the CEO to conduct to ensure that the agency carries out its proper governmental mission.” He claimed that by removing the “firewall” regulation, this would bring the agency back in line with U.S. foreign policy.

VOA’s acting director, Elez Biberaj, informed staff via email that the broadcaster would continue to operate under longstanding legal rules, such as the 1994 International Broadcasting Act (IBA), which protects its editorial independence. Yet press freedom advocates fear that the repeal is an attempt to transform the USAGM outlets into a partisan, pro-government mouthpieces. Carlos Martinez de la Serna, Programme Director for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), condemned the move, saying that it “risks undermining the networks’ credibility and could further endanger the safety of its journalists.” Pack has already suspended the renewal of visas for foreign journalists working for USAGM.

The announcement to remove the firewall was made on the same day that submissions for public comments about a proposed law seeking to limit the visas of foreign journalists in the U.S. closed, and with just days to go until the U.S. presidential election.

When Pack was appointed CEO of USAGM in June – the agency’s first CEO to be appointed by the president – he immediately took to purging the heads of its various media outlets and replacing them with “Trump loyalists“. Last month, he ignored a subpoena requiring him to attend a hearing about his radical changes.

With just under a week until the U.S. presidential elections, the American public must be able to access reliable and accurate information from sources untainted by political interference. Furthermore, the denial of visa renewals could place foreign journalists working for USAGM outlets in significant danger upon their return from the United States. The Public Media Alliance will continue to report on and highlight threats to editorial independence and the safety of journalists working in US public and public interest media.

Header Image: Voice of America Building in DC. Credit: Rhododendrites, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons