NEW YORK – Voice of America (VOA) should ensure that its investigation into the circumstances surrounding the suspension of five VOA Mandarin Service journalists be comprehensive and fully address allegations regarding attempted outside influence on the news service, a necessary step to ensure continued public trust in the venerable US government-funded media outlet, PEN America said today.

On May 2, five VOA journalists were informed that they would be suspended with pay from their employment at VOA, pending the completion of a “full investigation.”  The suspensions occurred after a live interview conducted on April 19th with fugitive Chinese businessman Guo Wenggui. Guo, who is wanted in China on bribery charges, has made high-profile accusations of corruption against Beijing government officials and other Chinese elites. Such allegations, made on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, led to him being briefly suspended from both social media platforms in April.

The April 19 VOA interview, in which Guo stated his innocence of the charges against him and repeated prior allegations of government corruption, was abruptly ended approximately an hour into the broadcast. At the time the interview was cut off, Guo was commenting on allegations against Wang Qishan, a senior leader of the Chinese Communist Party. Voice of America cited a “miscommunication” as the reason for the curtailed interview, saying that the segment was only scheduled to be an hour long.

Voice of America has stated that the decision to suspend the journalists was “based on the journalistic principles of verification, balance and fairness that are standard industry practice and apply universally to all VOA services.” During the interview itself, the journalists noted that China’s Foreign Ministry had summoned a member of the VOA staff before the interview to discourage the news outlet from proceeding.  VOA has denied that it was subject to pressure from the US government and said that overtures by the Chinese government played no role in their decision to interrupt the Guo interview, or to suspend the journalists.

A thorough, independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the curtailed interview and the conduct of relevant VOA staff and leaders is essential to address claims of improper influence. “The VOA has fiercely safeguarded its reputation for journalistic independence which is integral to its global role,” said PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel, “The launch of an independent inquiry is an important step to address questions that have been raised and uphold VOA’s storied reputation.”

PEN America, the free expression advocacy group, has long been engaged on the issue of press freedom in China and specifically the influence of the Chinese government in impairing the work of foreign journalists. Its work includes its September 2016 report Darkened Screen, on restrictions of foreign journalists and media outlets in mainland China, and its January 2015 report Threatened Harbor, on the deteriorating atmosphere for press freedom in Hong Kong.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Sarah Edkins, Communications Director: sedkins@pen.org, +1.646.779.4830