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EDITORIAL

News vs. propaganda: Trump blurs the line

Voice of America, a beacon for free press around the world, is now poised to become a megaphone for the White House’s political agenda.

The Voice of America headquarters in Washington, D.C. On Monday night, the Trump-appointed head of VOA and its affiliates rescinded the regulatory “firewall” that protected those government-funded agencies from federal interference.
The Voice of America headquarters in Washington, D.C. On Monday night, the Trump-appointed head of VOA and its affiliates rescinded the regulatory “firewall” that protected those government-funded agencies from federal interference.Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

In the dark of night, a week before the presidential election, the Trump-appointed head of Voice of America and its affiliates rescinded the regulatory “firewall” that guaranteed the journalistic independence of those government-funded media outlets for decades.

Since 1942, the global news service, which now operates in 47 languages and employs more than 1,100 journalists, has told “America’s story" — free of government interference.

The move sets the stage for the once-respected Voice of America to become a full-fledged propaganda arm of the Trump administration on the world stage at a time when fair and truthful reporting — and American credibility — is more important than ever.

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On election night, this network, which weekly reaches more than 350 million people around the world, will be charged with explaining what is expected to be a more-complex-than-usual exercise in democracy to that massive international audience. Now it will be directly under the thumb of its Trump-named boss.

The repealed regulation, entitled “Firewall and Highest Standards of Professional Journalism,” essentially prohibited executives or officials of the US Agency for Global Media — the umbrella agency for Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, and other government-funded outlets — from interfering with the news product. It barred “attempts to direct, pressure, coerce, threaten, interfere with or otherwise impermissibly influence” staffers “in the performance of their journalistic and broadcasting duties and activities.”

But at 10:18 p.m. Monday, Michael Pack, who took control of the agency in June, notified its several thousand employees that the rule was henceforth rescinded.

“The rule threatened constitutional values because the Constitution gives the President broad latitude in directing the foreign policy of the United States,” Pack wrote. “The President’s representatives in furthering US foreign policy interests, including USAGM and its CEO, must be able to ensure that the agency fulfills the ‘broad foreign policy objectives’ . . . established by the President.”

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This latest assault on the agency by Pack, a former business associate of one-time Trump adviser Steve Bannon, follows months of firings of key agency personnel. Back in June, Pack fired several top executives, the heads of nearly all of the agency’s affiliates (two VOA leaders had already resigned), and disbanded their separate bipartisan boards.

On Pack’s watch the agency ordered up an investigation of Voice of America White House bureau chief Steve Herman; it was Herman who revealed Vice President Mike Pence had not worn a mask during his visit to the Mayo Clinic. Pack and his top aides have also taken issue with the presidential coverage by the agency’s Urdu language station and its French-to-Africa service.

The “firewall” regulation was promulgated in June, during the waning days of the USAGM’s bipartisan board of governors, which was dissolved following Pack’s Senate confirmation. But it traces its roots back to the agency’s 1960 charter, later signed into law by President Ford, which pledged that its reporting would be “accurate, objective and comprehensive” and “represent America, not any single segment of American society.”

The news agency certainly was never intended to be a propaganda arm of this or any other White House — although Pack has demonstrated during his five months at the helm that that is exactly his intention. Now, days before the election, he has removed yet another obstacle to completing his perverse mission.

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Voice of America and its affiliated networks have indeed been a critical part of this country’s foreign policy because they were credible — a shining example of what American journalism at its best could be. Destroy that credibility and VOA is no better than the propaganda dished out by “news” agencies in Russia, China, or Iran.

This latest assault on VOA is further proof that there is nothing this corrupt administration won’t do in pursuit of better “press” for Donald J. Trump — even if it means damaging a valuable agency beyond recognition. Our nation’s global media operation is yet another institution that won’t survive four more years of a Trump administration.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.