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Voice of America journalists demand resignation of top officials, protest sidelining of two staffers

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WASHINGTON — A group of Voice of America journalists has signed a letter demanding the resignation of the director of VOA and his deputy, accusing them of using the network “to stage a propaganda event” for U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and for “sudden and unexplained” reassignments of the chief news editor and White House correspondent at the broadcaster.

The journalists said the actions of VOA director Robert Reilly and deputy director Elizabeth Robbins violated the network’s decades-old charter, which states that the U.S.-funded outlet does not speak for the U.S. government, according to the letter obtained by NBC News.

Reilly and Robbins were recently installed by President Donald Trump’s appointee, Michael Pack, who runs the parent agency that oversees VOA, the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

The letter was sent to Pack, Reilly and Robbins and has so far been signed by two dozen journalists from the VOA’s staff of about 1,000.

In an event on Monday at the network’s headquarters in Washington, Pompeo delivered a speech carried live on VOA, extolling the virtues of America’s free press and accusing the service of having overly negative coverage of the U.S. in the past. The broadcasters’ reporters were barred from asking questions and outside media were not allowed to attend the event, according to the letter and journalists who spoke to NBC News.

Pompeo “used this opportunity to attempt to direct VOA journalists to cease critical coverage of the United States,” and Reilly, who was on stage with the secretary of state, “did not challenge him — a disservice to our international audience,” the letter said.

One VOA journalist, White House correspondent, Patsy Widakuswara, did try to ask Pompeo questions after his speech. Hours later, she was ordered off the White House beat, NBC News previously reported.

According to the letter, after Widakuswara tried to ask Pompeo about America’s image abroad after last week’s storming of the Capitol, the VOA director, Reilly, shouted at her: “‘You obviously don’t know how to behave . . . you are out of order!'”

The journalists condemned Reilly’s response. “Let us be clear: it is not out of order for VOA journalists to ask questions of U.S. government officials. It is our job.”

Widakuswara was kicked off the White House beat hours after the event by Robbins, who until recently worked for Pompeo and has “no journalistic experience,” according to the letter.

VOA declined to comment and USAGM did not respond to requests for comment.

The reassignment of Widakuswara sends a dangerous message to every VOA journalist that they will be punished if they ask critical questions, the letter said.

“Voice of America was founded upon the belief that all countries deserve honest and reliable news without the meddling of their governments. Unfortunately, Monday’s events have shaken that foundation,” the letter said.

VOA was established during World War II with the mission of reporting on events in the U.S. for foreign audiences. VOA is overseen by the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which also is the parent of several foreign-language broadcasting services for Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Cuba that have large international audiences.

Since Pack took over at the U.S Agency for Global Media last year, he has fired senior executives and governing boards, refused to renew visas for dozens of foreign journalists and suffered rebukes from Congress and a federal judge. Press freedom groups and lawmakers have accused him of trying to turn the government-funded media outlets into propaganda mouthpieces for President Donald Trump.

Pack has rejected the criticism, saying he is returning the networks to their original mission and that some of the past coverage was politically biased.

It remains unclear why Pack has continued to make major personnel changes only days before a new administration is due to take office. President-elect Joe Biden’s team has made it clear it plans to fire Pack.

They appear to be “trying to burn the place down on the way out,” said one VOA journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution by the network’s management.

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Biden admin blasts China for ‘cynical’ Inauguration Day sanctions on Trump officials

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That didn’t take long.

Within hours of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, his foreign policy team began wrangling with one of the administration’s biggest challenges: China.

The U.S. labeled as “unproductive and cynical” a slew of sanctions China imposed on outgoing Donald Trump officials just as the inauguration was taking place.

“Imposing these sanctions on Inauguration Day is seemingly an attempt to play to partisan divides,” Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for President Biden’s National Security Council, told Reuters on Wednesday. “President Biden looks forward to working with leaders in both parties to position America to out-compete China.”

China responded by criticizing the outgoing administration, and calling for healing and better relations between the two countries — even using a line from Biden’s inauguration speech.

“I believe if both countries work together, better angels in the U.S.-China relations could defeat evil forces,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a press briefing on Thursday.

In his speech emphasizing the need for unity to triumph over division, Biden on Wednesday said: “Through struggle, sacrifice and setbacks, our better angels have always prevailed,” — a phrase borrowed from Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 inaugural address.

The rhetorical exchange follows four years of worsened U.S.-China relations, with Trump and members of his team blaming the Covid-19 pandemic on China, using racist terms to describe the virus and criticizing Beijing’s treatment of Hong Kong protesters and its Uighur Muslim minority.

During this time, the countries — the world’s two largest economies — also became locked in a damaging trade war.

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Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to Washington attended Biden’s inauguration with an official invitation, a first, which could indicate the new president will continue with Trump’s increased support for the self-governed island that Beijing claims as part of China.

However, while it has signaled that it will maintain pressure on Beijing, Biden’s team is widely expected to take a more traditional, diplomatic and multilateral approach than Trump’s did.

China placed sanctions on 28 Trump officials on Wednesday, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro and Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services Secretary. The measures bar travel to Hong Kong, Macao or mainland China, and restrict any organizations they run from doing business there, according to a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry.

In his final weeks in office, Pompeo unleashed a barrage of measures against China, and said Tuesday that Beijing had committed “genocide and crimes against humanity” against its Uighur Muslim population.

China has repeatedly rejected accusations of abuse in its Xinjiang region, where the United Nations says at least 1 million Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained in camps.

Biden’s choice to succeed Pompeo, Antony Blinken, said Tuesday he agreed with Pompeo’s assessment. He told his Senate confirmation hearing there was “no doubt” China posed the most significant challenge to the United States of any nation.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Isabel Wang contributed.



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QT audience member fires back at remainers anti-Brexit 'hype' – 'Industry hasn't stopped!'

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NORTHERN IRELAND supply fears have been dismissed by an audience member on BBC Question Time, who insisted Brexit has not caused “hiccups” with stock.

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Biden immigration bill would provide more protections for child migrants

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s immigration legislation will include new protections for children migrating from Central America, including the return of an Obama-era program that lets children apply for refugee or asylum status in the United States from their home countries.

In August 2017, the Trump administration stopped allowing children to seek asylum from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, a key feature of the Central American Minors program begun under Obama.

Other details of the legislation revealed on Thursday include hiring more immigration judges to handle asylum cases, offering “humane alternatives” to immigrant detention and changing the term “alien” to “noncitizen” in immigration laws.

The bill will also include an expedited path to citizenship, allowing young immigrants known as Dreamers, certain farm workers and immigrants under Temporary Protected Status to immediately be eligible for green cards and then citizenship within three years. All other undocumented immigrants in the United States since Jan. 1 would be eligible for green cards within five years and citizenship in eight years under the legislative proposal, according to a staff member for Sen Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who spoke on a call with media and advocates on Thursday.

Tackling immigration, an issue known for its political divisiveness, as his first major legislative proposal could prove difficult for the new president.

Menendez said he was “under no illusion” that passing the legislation would anything but “a Herculean task.”

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who proposed restrictions on immigration under the Trump administration, called Biden’s proposal an “amnesty plan” that “dismantles existing enforcement” for illegal immigration

The bill would need 60 votes to make it through the Senate, and with Vice President Kamala Harris as a tie breaker, Menendez said he would need to bring at least nine Republicans to agree to the bill.

Other pieces of the legislation, detailed on the call by Menendez, who will introduce the bill, include allowing children to have legal assistance when making their asylum cases in U.S. immigration courts.

“We will no longer force children to make their own case… We will give them assistance to do that,” Menendez said.

Menendez said the bill will also increase training and the basic standard of care for children in the custody of Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Under the Trump administration, at least seven children died in the custody of, or shortly after being released from the custody of, CBP or ICE. Officials for the Trump administration said at the time that they were ill-equipped to handle the influx of families arriving at the southern border and that many of the children came to their custody with severe illness.

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