WASHINGTON – A federal judge has ruled against the head of the agency that runs the Voice of America and other U.S.-funded news outlets that were accused of trying to turn it into a propaganda vehicle to advance President Donald Trump’s agenda.
The ruling effectively prevents the Global Agency for Global Media CEO Michael Pack from making staff decisions and interfering in editorial operations.
Pack, a conservative filmmaker, Trump ally and one-time assistant to former Trump political adviser Steve Bannon, made no secret of his intention to shake up the agency after the June takeover.
He went on to clean up the 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 just days before the layoffs. Pack also fired their boards.
His movements were criticized by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, who control the agency̵
The lawsuit was filed last month in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by five leaders who had been fired or suspended. They accused Pack and his senior advisers of violating the “statutory firewall” that was supposed to protect news organizations from political interference.
After the case was filed, Pack announced that he had repealed the “firewall rule” issued by the Broadcasting Board of Governors. In a statement posted on his agency’s website, he said the rule erroneously prohibited him from conducting deployment operations and “made the agency difficult to administer.”
In his judgment late Friday, Judge Beryl Howell imposed preliminary injunctions preventing Pak from making staff decisions about journalists employed by the agency, communicating directly with them and investigating editorial content or individual journalists.
In July, Pack had ordered an investigation into the posting of a video package with now-elected President Joe Biden on a VOA website. He called the segment “pro-Biden” and said his staff weighed 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 comments that disgraced VOA employees, who they said were jeopardizing the credibility of their colleagues and the international television company.
“The court confirmed that the first amendment prohibits Mr. Pack and his team from attempting to take control of these journalistic outlets, from investigating their journalists for alleged ‘bias’ and from attempting to influence or control their reporting content,” Lee Crain , a lawyer 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 the international public.