Voice of America Director Accused of Financial and Media Self-Dealing
WASHINGTON — The Trump-appointed chief executive who oversees Voice of America is facing an onslaught of crises only days before the president is scheduled to leave office.
First, the attorney general of the District of Columbia last week sued U.S. Agency for Global Media CEO Michael Pack for allegedly shifting $4 million to a documentary company he owns from a non-profit he controls.
Next, five recent chiefs of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty warned President-elect Joe Biden in a letter that Pack represents “a long-term threat to the credibility and professionalism of the five networks” he manages. The U.S. Agency for Global Media is the parent organization for the five networks, which includes Voice of America.
Voice of America is an international broadcaster funded by Congress. It produces digital, television and radio content in 47 languages that it distributes to affiliate stations worldwide.
Pack also is accused of using Voice of America to create propaganda in favor of the Trump administration.
An anonymous group of Voice of America employees sent a letter to congressional leaders last week warning them about what they called Pack’s breach of regulations intended to prevent bias in news reports.
They said a speech by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday that was broadcast worldwide over the radio network represented “the use of VOA to disseminate political propaganda in the waning days of the Trump administration.”
Voice of America is required under its charter to maintain independence from the U.S. government in its news broadcasts.
They called Pompeo’s speech at Voice of America headquarters “one-sided and lacking the necessary objectivity… It is political meddling.”
During the speech, Pompeo asked Voice of America staff members to be less critical of the U.S. government.
He said Voice of America “isn’t the place to give authoritarian regimes in Beijing or Tehran a platform.”
He added, “It is not fake news for you to broadcast that this is the greatest nation in the history of the world and the greatest nation this civilization has ever known. I’m not saying ignore our faults. Indeed, just the opposite. It is to acknowledge them. But this isn’t the Vice of America, focusing on everything that’s wrong with our great nation. It’s the Voice of America.”
In the attorney general’s lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court, Pack faces the risk of a multi-million dollar court judgment.
The lawsuit says Public Media Lab, a non-profit organization Pack directs, shifted more than $4 million of tax-exempt funds to the for-profit Manifold Productions, Inc., which Pack founded in 1977.
“In effect, the Public Media Lab functioned to enrich Mr. Pack,” D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said in a statement. “We have filed suit to recover these funds and ensure they are properly spent.”
The lawsuit asks a court to direct the money transferred to Manifold to other non-profits and to dissolve Public Media Lab.
Public Media Lab’s articles of incorporation in the District of Columbia describes its purpose “to receive and award grants to develop, promote, and support educational documentary films and filmmakers, and to conduct related public education and information activities in the United States and abroad.”
The attorney general’s lawsuit says Public Media Lab has violated terms of its own stated purpose.
“A non-profit abandons its public purpose when it allows any portion of its funds to be spent in ways that are designed to benefit private persons or companies,” the lawsuit says.
Internal Revenue Service regulations allow donors to make tax-deductible contributions to the organization.
However, the attorney general’s lawsuit says the organization actually exists for a different reason.
“From 2008- 2018, [Public Media Lab] spent its available funds on awarding grants to Manifold almost exclusively, providing Pack and Manifold with a consistent and guaranteed stream of tax-exempt funding,” the lawsuit says.
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