White House slams Voice of America, VOA fights back

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Residents wearing masks against the coronavirus walk past lantern sculptures at a park in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province on Thursday, April 9, 2020. Chinese authorities ended the lockdown of Wuhan on Wednesday, allowing people to move about and leave the city for the first time in 76 days. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House on Friday launched an unusual attack on the congressionally funded Voice of America, the U.S. broadcaster that for decades has provided independent news reporting around the world.

In a broadside directed against VOA’s coverage of the pandemic and China on Friday, an official White House publication accused it of using taxpayer money “to speak for authoritarian regimes” because it covered the lifting of the lockdown in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the new coronavirus first emerged. VOA promptly fired back, defending its coverage.

“Voice of America spends your money to speak for authoritarian regimes,” the White House said in its “1600 Daily” email summary of news and events. It said VOA’s roughly $200 million annual budget should be spent on its mission to “tell America’s story” and “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively” to global audiences.

But, citing a VOA report from earlier this week on the lifting of travel restrictions and easing of the lockdown in Wuhan, the White House said that “VOA too often speaks for America’s adversaries — not its citizens.” It noted that VOA had also recently pointed out comments by Iran’s foreign minister critical of the U.S.

Friday’s attack followed another barb directed at VOA on Thursday by White House social media director Dan Scavino, who branded VOA a “disgrace” in a tweet.

VOA fired back at both attacks, responding to Scavino on Twitter and defending its coverage as unbiased. It noted that it is required by law to present all sides of an issue.

“One of the big differences between publicly-funded independent media, like the Voice of America, and state-controlled media is that we are free to show all sides of an issue and are actually mandated to do so by law as stated in the VOA Charter,” director Amanda Bennett said in a lengthy statement that included links to numerous VOA stories highlighting shortcomings in China’s response to the virus.

Bennett noted that VOA, along with several other U.S. news outlets, has been effectively barred from working in China but that it continues to report and broadcast news from inside the country. VOA is run by the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which also oversees other government-funded broadcasters like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia.

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