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A controversial U.S. shuffle

The new CEO for U.S.-backed international broadcast services shakes things up

The Voice of America building in Washington Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Harnik

A controversial U.S. shuffle

IN-DEPTH: Michael Pack, the new CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, fired the heads of at least three U.S.-funded global news outlets: Radio Free Asia, Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, and the Middle East Broadcasting Network. Pack also removed current members of the board of each network to install his own team. Wednesday’s notices gave no reason for the decision, but President Trump had broadly signaled he appointed Pack to bring the $1 billion federally funded broadcasting networks in line with administration stances.

A conservative filmmaker, the former head of the Claremont Institute, and a one-time associate of Trump political adviser Steve Bannon, Pack was confirmed by the Senate on June 4 despite his being under investigation by the attorney general for the District of Columbia over potential misuse of a nonprofit. Tensions between public broadcasters and presidents are long-standing, but President Trump has singled out Voice of America coverage as “disgusting,” and its two top editors resigned on Monday ahead of Pack taking over. In an email to staff, Pack said he is committed to ensuring the broadcasters’ independence. Conservatives often have taken aim at government-funded media but appeared to endorse White House efforts to steer the global news agency, confirming Pack 53-38 in the Senate. Earlier, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approved the nomination without a report, despite objections from ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.: “Why are we voting on a nominee who is the subject of an investigation for unlawful self-enrichment?” The international broadcast services began as radio outlets during and after World War II, producing independent news that served to counter Nazi and later Communist propaganda. Middle East Broadcasting, an Arabic language television service founded in 2002, grew in importance following 9/11 and with Arab Spring protests. Its now-dismissed director Alberto Fernandez, a Cuban-American diplomat (and a sometime WORLD contributor) and an expert on international religious freedom, this year battled to keep U.S.-owned transmitters operating in Baghdad. This week, Iraqi authorities shut down the facilities and threatened to take them over.

SYRIA: New sanctions enacted this week under a set of measures known as the Caesar Act passed by Congress late last year also target key Assad regime allies Russia and Iran. Already, Syria’s economy is spiraling toward collapse. But calls to lift the sanctions in light of the coronavirus pandemic “are misguided,” according to a report by one leading U.S.-based Syrian group.

BANGLADESH: The world’s largest refugee camp at Cox’s Bazar has been on lockdown for about a week, according to CARE country director Ram Das. Most parts of the area encompassing the camps housing nearly 1 million people are now a “red zone.” With 36 confirmed COVID-19 cases less than two weeks after the first case appeared, and 1,275 confirmed cases in Cox’s Bazar district, there is a “huge risk,” said Das in a briefing, that the virus could be spreading among refugees, who are largely Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, also known as Burma.

ENGLAND: Dexamethasone, the generic steroid showing promise in treating COVID-19 patients, has the added advantage of being in steady supply.

CHINA: Beijing’s outbreak underscores the obvious: The pandemic is far from over.

UNITED STATES: President Donald Trump’s decision-making consistently prioritized his reelection, according to the new book from former national security adviser John Bolton, who described his boss of 17 months as “stunningly uninformed” and easily swayed by authoritarian leaders.

Trump signed on Wednesday a bill punishing China for its human rights abuses against the mostly Muslim Uighurs, the same day Bolton’s published book excerpt described the president at a G-20 meeting last year telling Chinese President Xi Jinping that building concentration camps for Uighurs “was exactly the right thing to do.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the Trump administration cannot carry out its plan to shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has allowed nearly 800,000 young people, known as “Dreamers,” to avoid deportation and remain in the United States. A staggering coronavirus death toll and race rioting have “overflowed to the world our country’s anguishes and failures”—my lament.

GERMANY: Prosecutors filed murder charges against a Russian in the slaying in Berlin of a Georgian man, and accused the Russian Federation of ordering the killing. Underscoring the importance of the case—involving the brazen daylight murder last year of a man who led an anti-Russian militia in Chechnya—the German Foreign Ministry on Thursday called in the Russian ambassador.

HUNGARY: Parliament voted on Tuesday to end the nation’s state of emergency brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, revoking a controversial law that handed extra powers to Viktor Orbán’s government.

IRAQ: Iranian-backed militias are expanding the control of Shabak, a Shia group, in the town of Bartella, taking over houses and properties Christians were forced to abandon in the 2014 ISIS takeover.

George Washington University’s Extremism Project will launch The ISIS Files Project on June 29, based on the collection of 15,000 pages of raw documents confiscated in Iraq by The New York Times.

SOLAR SYSTEM: A rare solar eclipse known as the “ring of fire” will dazzle on Sunday, as the sun, moon, and Earth align for the summer solstice.

NOTE: Globe Trot is taking a summer vacation, returning on Monday, July 6.

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Mindy Belz

Mindy wrote WORLD Magazine’s first cover story in 1986 and went on to serve as international editor, editor, and senior editor. She has covered wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Africa, and the Balkans, and she recounts some of her experiences in They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run From ISIS With Persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Mindy resides with her husband, Nat, in Asheville, N.C.



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Big Jim

"President Donald Trump’s decision-making consistently prioritized his reelection ..."

Yea, him and virtually all other elected officials. That's what politicians do.