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.