Trump-appointed media agency chief acted illegally to purge leadership from VOA and RFE / RL, federal judge said

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Russian police interviewed an activist calling for freedom for Svetlana Prokopyeva, a freelance journalist with the Russian service of US-funded Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, who had been convicted of< justification du terrorisme >> for his report on a suicide attack in 2018. alexander nemenov / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

WASHINGTON (AP) – A federal judge has ruled against the head of the agency that runs the Voice of America and other US-funded media on charges of trying to turn it into a propaganda vehicle to promote President Donald Trump‘s agenda.

The ruling effectively bars Michael Pack, CEO of the US Agency for Global Media, from making decisions about personnel and interfering in editorial operations.

Pack, a right-wing filmmaker, Trump ally and former partner of former Trump political adviser Steve Bannon, has made no secret of his intention to shake up the agency after taking office in June.

He then served as leadership of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Networks and the Open Technology Fund, which works to provide secure Internet access to people around the world. The director and deputy director of VOA resigned a few days before the layoffs. Pack also fired their boards.

His moves have been criticized by Democrats and Republicans in Congress who control the agency’s budget.

The lawsuit was filed last month in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by five executives who had been fired or suspended. They accused Pack and his senior advisers of violating the “statutory firewall” designed to protect news organizations from political interference.

After filing the complaint, Pack announced that it had rescinded the “firewall rule” issued by the Broadcasting Board of Governors. In a statement posted on his agency’s website, he said the rule wrongly prohibited him from running broadcast operations and “made the agency difficult to manage.”

In her ruling Friday night, Judge Beryl Howell imposed preliminary injunctions that prevent Pack from making personal decisions about journalists employed by the agency, from communicating directly with them, and from investigating editorial content or individual journalists .

In July, Pack ordered an investigation into the posting of a video package featuring now President-elect Joe Biden on a VOA website. He called the segment “pro-Biden” and said his staff were weighing disciplinary action against those responsible.

Fourteen senior VOA journalists sent a letter to management in August protesting Pack’s actions, including the dismissal of foreign journalists and his disparaging comments against VOA staff, which they said endangered their colleagues and the community. credibility of the international broadcaster.

“The court confirmed that the First Amendment prohibits Mr. Pack and his team from attempting to take control of these media, investigating their journalists for alleged ‘prejudice’ and attempting to influence or control the content of their reporting, ”Lee Crain, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

The global media agency did not immediately respond to a written request for comment on the decision.

VOA was founded during World War II, and its congressional charter requires it to present independent news and information to an international audience. RFE / RL throughout the Cold War and thereafter sought to promote Western-style democratic values ​​by disseminating truth-based information and information to private listeners of reliable media content through censorship and others. state practices.

MarketWatch contributed.