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Judge rules US media agency CEO's interference unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled Friday that the head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees Voice of America (VOA) and other networks, unconstitutionally interfered with the news service when he went after its journalists for alleged bias against President TrumpDonald John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORENPR reports

Five suspended officials from the USAGM sued CEO Michael Pack in early October, accusing him of violating the “firewall” that protects international broadcasters from political interference.

The officials alleged that Pack and others investigated and punished journalists for negative stories about the president, as well as stories about now President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation US records 2,300 COVID-19 deaths as pandemic rises with holidays MORE and the racial justice protests across the U.S. 

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The suit also asserted that Pack, who was confirmed by the Senate earlier this year, was preventing news agencies from reporting objectively by withholding funds and refusing to extend visas for non-Americans who work for the broadcast agencies.

U.S. Judge Beryl Howell found that Pack’s actions likely “violated and continue to violate [journalists’] First Amendment rights because, among other unconstitutional effects, they result in self-censorship and the chilling of First Amendment expression."

"These current and unanticipated harms are sufficient to demonstrate irreparable harm," Howell, an appointee of President Obama, added in her opinion.

Howell ordered Pack to stop any interference in VOA’s news coverage and editorial personnel matters.

Since Pack was confirmed in June, he’s fired and suspended multiple top executives, reassigned VOA’s top standards executive and investigated journalists for stories about the presidential campaign, NPR noted.

Specifically, VOA White House bureau chief Steve Herman was investigated over his social media activity, including tweets he “liked,” and two stories about the president. 

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Acting VOA Director Elez Biberaj said in a statement to The Hill on Saturday that “editorial independence and journalistic integrity free of political interference are the core elements that sustain VOA and make us America's voice.” 

"A steady 83% of VOA's audience finds our journalism trustworthy. There are few, if any, media organizations that can claim such trust. I am proud of our journalists who continue to uphold VOA's traditions of providing our audience with accurate, objective and comprehensive reporting."

USAGM did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment.