The U.S.-funded international broadcaster Voice of America on Sunday condemned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for apparently instructing staff to ignore their interview requests, calling the move “shocking” and “troubling.”
The White House has accused VOA and other American news organizations of favoring the Chinese government during the coronavirus pandemic, issuing an April 10 news release titled “Amid a Pandemic, Voice of America Spends Your Money to Promote Foreign Propaganda.” VOA defended its coverage in a release the same day, citing its record of scrutinizing and debunking misinformation from Chinese officials and state media.
The VOA was responding to partially redacted documents posted on the national security forum Just Security. The nonprofit Knight First Amendment Institute said it obtained the internal guidance in response to a public records request seeking the CDC’s and Trump administration’s policies on allowing government experts to speak publicly amid the coronavirus crisis.
The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The documents named veteran news anchor Greta Van Susteren, a host with VOA: “NOTE: as a rule, do not send up requests for Greta Van [Susteren] or anyone affiliated with Voice of America,” reads one instruction, pointing to the April 10 White House release.
Van Susteren tweeted on Sunday that she was dismayed the CDC had “blackballed” her when no one had found factual inaccuracies in her virus reporting, while VOA Director Amanda Bennett said in a statement that “efforts such as those outlined in the CDC memo can result in the kind of chilling effect on our journalism that we regularly see in the markets we broadcast to that have no free press.”
Bennett had emphasized VOA’s independence in her response to the White House’s April 10 criticism.
“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 signed by President Gerald Ford in 1976,” she said at the time.