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Former VOA producer sues US global media agency over termination

Former VOA producer sues US global media agency over termination
© YouTube/USAGM

A former Voice of America (VOA) producer filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the Trump administration, alleging the head of the federal agency overseeing U.S. international media inserted himself into the decision to remove her.

In her lawsuit, Vardha Khalil, who worked as a multimedia journalist for VOA’s Urdu division, called out U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) CEO Michael Pack for rescinding a firewall safeguard that ensured the organization's broadcasters could operate without political interference.

She claims she was fired because Pack "believed her content to be biased against President TrumpDonald TrumpFranklin Graham says Trump comeback would 'be a very tough thing to do' Man suspected in wife's disappearance accused of casting her ballot for Trump Stefanik: Cheney is 'looking backwards' MORE."

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Pack announced last month that he had rescinded the “firewall rule,” saying it was “based on flawed legal and constitutional reasoning.”

Khalil’s attorney, Faisal Gill, said in a statement Wednesday that Pack’s “egregious actions in personally undertaking the day to day management of the Voice of America blatantly violated the protections of the statutory firewall which were set to keep Voice of America and its employees and contractors an independent broadcasting network safe from political bias and influence.”

The longtime producer's lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 26, argues that Pack and “his direct subordinates,” including senior adviser Samuel Dewey, injected themselves into an investigation of Khalil as well as her subsequent firing.

Khalil says officials launched a probe after she produced a story about President-elect Joe BidenJoe Biden28 Senate Democrats sign statement urging Israel-Hamas ceasefire Franklin Graham says Trump comeback would 'be a very tough thing to do' Schools face new pressures to reopen for in-person learning MORE’s participation in the Emgage Action Online Summit.

In her lawsuit she maintains, she "stated facts" in her piece and "did not interject her own personal judgement, opinion or beliefs." She said all parts of her story and video were approved by her supervisors. 

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USAGM's investigation concluded to fire her, saying the story appeared "without balance" as it did not mention President Trump's efforts to reach Muslim voters. Trump did not speak at the summit. 

“The Voice of America is regarded around the world for its utmost journalistic integrity and reliability and is relied upon worldwide for unbiased non-partisan news,” Gill said. “I am hopeful that we can achieve a favorable outcome that shows that a political appointee cannot overstep their role in order to make Voice of America a puppet for any specific administration.”

The USAGM did not immediately return a request for comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit comes after five suspended officials in the USAGM filed a separate lawsuit last month against the agency and Pack for promoting a pro-Trump agenda. 

These officials alleged that Pack, who the GOP-led Senate confirmed in June, and other agency officials have punished journalists for publishing negative stories about Trump, as well as stories about Biden and the racial justice protests in the U.S. 

That lawsuit also asserted Pack broke the firewall, which the agency's website previously said “prohibits interference by U.S. government officials, including the USAGM's Chief Executive Officer, in the objective, independent reporting of news by USAGM networks."

Pack had previously told The Hill that the separate lawsuit last month was “totally without merit.”

"Every decision and action made by me and implemented by my senior leadership has been correct and lawful," he said at the time.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelLawmakers on hot mic joke 'aisle hog' Engel absent from Biden address: 'He'd wait all day' Bowman to deliver progressive response to Biden's speech to Congress Liberal advocacy group stirs debate, discomfort with primary challenges MORE (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulHouse lawmakers roll out bill to invest 0 million in state and local cybersecurity Asian American lawmakers say State's 'assignment restrictions' discriminate Senate Intelligence panel working on legislation around mandatory cyber breach notification MORE (R-Texas), who oversee the USAGM, slammed Pack last month for attempting to remove the firewall.