VOA reassigns reporter who tried to question Pompeo

Washington (AFP) –


Voice of America's management came under fire Tuesday after reassigning a journalist who attempted to pose a question to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he visited the broadcaster.

Pompeo criticized the taxpayer-funded news outlet during a speech 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 soon taken off the beat -- before Trump's visit Tuesday to Texas that she had been due to cover.

"VOA's reassignment of Patsy Widakuswara for doing her job, asking questions, is an affront to the very ideals Secretary of State Pompeo discussed in his speech," Zeke Miller, president of the association, said in a statement.

The move "harms the interests of all Americans who depend on the free press to learn about the actions of their government and gives comfort to efforts to restrict press freedom around the world."

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 urged the broadcaster to tell how the United States "is the greatest nation in the history of the world and the greatest nation that civilization has ever known."

Through a whistleblower complaint, some staff members had 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 Biden team has said the president-elect plans to fire him.

The Trump White House has publicly criticized VOA for not trumpeting the administration's line and for its coverage of Covid-19 in China.