We were shocked to read the internal CDC documents instructing the agency's media relations office to refuse media requests from "anyone associated with Voice of America," citing White House tweets accusing VOA of spreading Chinese propaganda. VOA, a federally-funded independent news organization, strongly rejects the accusations and calls on the CDC to immediately withdraw the instructions. The CDC documents were released this week in response to a Knight First Amendment Institute’s FOIA request.
For a federal agency’s public affairs office to categorically deny in advance interview requests from VOA journalists, including our colleague Greta Van Susteren, based on a White House opinion statement referring to an Associated Press story about COVID-19 shared by the VOA newsroom as "propaganda," is even more troubling.
VOA issued a public response to that charge on April 10th – the same day as the White House statement was issued. A copy of our statement is here: https://www.insidevoa.com/a/a-statement-from-voa-director-amanda-bennett-/5367327.html
Since this memo denying VOA journalists access to CDC officials was issued on April 30, 2020, it is impossible to immediately discern its effect on our coverage of the pandemic since that date across all of our newsrooms that report in 47 languages to audiences in nearly 100 countries.
However, 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 – including in China and Russia.
As with any other major media outlet, VOA has clearly outlined editorial standards and a robust corrections policy. If the CDC – or any other organization – believes there are any errors in any VOA news stories, we encourage them to contact us immediately for a swift and thorough review so that any such errors can be corrected.