Voice of America’s management came under fire after reassigning a journalist who attempted to pose a question to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the deadly riot at the US Capitol last week.
Pompeo criticised the taxpayer-funded news outlet during a speech on Monday at its headquarters, where he took questions from VOA executives appointed by President Donald Trump – but not its reporters.
VOA White House reporter Patsy Widakuswara posted a video of herself asking Pompeo as he left the building about the mob attack by Trump supporters last week on a congressional session that certified President-elect Joe Biden’s win.
Pompeo did not answer or acknowledge the question. He last held a news conference on November 10, when he asserted there would be a “second Trump administration” despite Biden’s election victory, although he has since acknowledged defeat.
The White House Correspondents’ Association said Widakuswara was taken off the beat before Trump’s visit on Tuesday to Texas, which she had been assigned to cover.
The top Democrat and Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gregory Meeks and Michael McCaul, urged VOA to reinstate her “absent a legitimate reason”.
“This is the United States of America – we do not punish our journalists for seeking answers to their questions,” they said in a joint statement. “A free and fair press is at the core of our Constitution and our democracy.”
Zeke Miller, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, said Widakuswara’s reassignment “is an affront to the very ideals Secretary of State Pompeo discussed in his speech”.
A VOA spokesperson said the outlet “does not comment on internal personnel matters”.
Pompeo in his speech accused VOA of “demeaning America” until Trump shook up its leadership, and he urged the broadcaster to tell how the United States “is the greatest nation in the history of the world and the greatest nation that civilisation has ever known”.
Through a whistle-blower complaint, some staff members opposed Pompeo’s speech, saying it amounted to propaganda for the outgoing administration if there were no reporter questions.
Michael Pack, a conservative documentary producer appointed by Trump to oversee VOA, has voiced hope of ending a longstanding firewall against editorial interference in coverage, but the incoming team of President-elect Joe Biden has said he plans to fire him.
The Trump White House has publicly criticised VOA for not trumpeting the administration’s line and for its coverage of COVID-19 in China.