Wooden Judges Gavel

Federal Judge Rules Voice Of America Executive Violated Journalists First Amendment Rights

A federal judge ruled this Friday that the chief executive of the agency that oversees Voice of America must stop interfering and investigating with the journalists who are employed there. US District Judge Beryl Howell released a 76-page ruling which found that the CEO of the US Agency Global Media, Michael Pack, and his team violated the First Amendment rights of its journalists. 

Judge Howell also ruled that Pack and his team “showed an extensive pattern of penalizing those Global Media and network employees whom defendants regard as insufficiently supportive of President Trump.” The ruling means that Pack and others working for him won’t be able to do anything that could curb Voice Of America’s (VOA) editorial independence.

This includes “taking personal actions against journalists or editors, attempting to influence content by communicating with individual journalists or editors, and investigating purported breaches of journalistic ethics,” according to the ruling. 

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The initial lawsuit was filed by five senior executives at the US Agency Global Media (USAGM) who Pack fired/suspended back in August. The senior executives alleged that Pack and other top employees consistently tried to interfere with their work because it didn’t align with the political interests of President Donald Trump. 

“Defendants’ extensive pattern of penalizing those USAGM and network employees whom defendants regard as insufficiently supportive of President Trump has resulted in the termination, discipline, and investigation of multiple employees and journalists,” Judge Howell wrote in her ruling.

Acting VOA Director Elez Bibera recently spoke with the press about how important it is for the journalism industry in general to maintain its First Amendment rights, but especially VOA which has acted as a sacred American media institution for decades. 

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“83% of VOA’s audience finds our journalism trustworthy. There are few, if any, media organizations that can claim such trust. Our journalists continue to uphold VOA’s traditions of providing accurate, objective and comprehensive reporting.”

Judge Howell described Pack and his co-defendants in her ruling as “individuals with no discernible journalism or broadcasting experience.” She also added that Pack has tried to interfere in the agency’s “newsrooms in violation of their eighty-year practice, enshrined in law, of journalistic autonomy.” 

The VOA was initially created in 1942 to combat Nazi propaganda during WWII. It’s one of many US government funded broadcast outlets that’s available to listeners all over the world. Back in July, a bipartisan group of senators made a pledge to investigate USAGM and their funding after Pack began his mass firings. 

Fast forward to October when the State Department’s inspector general and the US Office of Special Counsel both opened up inquiries about alleged misconduct, abuse of authority, and gross mismanagement within the Agency, according to the lawyers representing the five senior executives.

Federal Judge Dismisses Amazon Warehouse Workers’ Covid-19 Lawsuit

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit in New York involving an Amazon warehouse employee who was claiming that the company was putting employee lives on the line with their mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The suit initially began after a slew of Amazon warehouse employees contracted the coronavirus due to a lack of proper health and safety procedures. 

The lawsuit was initially filed in June after workers accused Amazon of creating a “public nuisance by exacerbating Covid-19 risks.” These “exacerbations” took the form of a company culture that created “workplace fear” for the employees. According to the filing, workers were told to “work at dizzying speeds, even if doing so prevents them from socially distancing, washing their hands, and sanitizing their work spaces.”

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This Sunday, US District judge Brian Cogan made a ruling in Brooklyn, NY, in which he decided that the warehouse employees should have brought the issues up with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) instead. Cogan claimed that the federal agency would better be able to “strike a balance between maintaining some level of operations in conjunction with some level of protective measures.” 

Given the federal courts lack of expertise on workplace health and safety issues during a global health crisis, Cogan feared bringing the lawsuit to the courts would only create a bunch of conflicting rulings from various judges who also lack experience in this type of legal issue. 

“Court-imposed workplace policies could subject the industry to vastly different, costly regulatory schemes in a time of economic crisis.”

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The Amazon workers’ lawyers said that they were weighing an appeal of Cogan’s ruling, claiming that the judge’s redirection of the case to be further dealt with by the OSHA “should be very concerning to anyone who cares about the health of American workers, given that OSHA has been virtually AWOL throughout this crisis,” they said in a statement after the ruling was made. 

Amazon spokesperson Lisa Levandowski recently released a statement after the ruling as well, denying any wrongdoing from the company, and calling the lawsuit an “effort to exploit the pandemic.”

“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our employees, which is why at the onset of the pandemic we moved quickly to make more than 150 COVID-19 related process changes.” 

In general, worker advocate groups all throughout the nation have filed public nuisance suits due to the lack of effort from the OSHA, meaning they’ve looked into the options with the agency but as they claimed, the organization has been relatively absent throughout the past nine months. 

Towards Justice and Public Justice are two legal non-profits that helped bring the Amazon suit to the courts initially. Additionally, the two companies are separately suing OSHA in a federal court in Pennsylvania due to their lack of efforts to address the “imminent dangers” workers everywhere continue to face.