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Federal judge orders Trump appointee to stop Voice of America changes

A federal judge has ordered a Trump-appointed conservative filmmaker appointed to run the Voice of America and other government-run media outlets to cease making personnel and editorial decisions, the Associated Press reports.

Michael Peck’s tenure as the head of US Agency for Global Media, which started in June 2020, was immediately contentious as he fired the heads of  Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and the Open Technology Fund, non-partisan media tasked with providing American news and information into authoritarian foreign countries.

A conservative filmmaker who produced titles such as “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in his Own Words” and “Hollywood vs. Religion,” Peck has been accused of unduly politicizing the broadcasts of the USAGM networks, turning them into outlets supporting outgoing Republican president Donald Trump and his campaign. 

Prior to firing the heads of the three key organizations, Peck was best known for delaying reporting to his office for a week after his confirmation, insisting that his office be swept for secret listening devices.  Once he fired the leaders of the media outlets, Peck directed the editorial choices of the outlets, insisting that they broadcast pro-Trump information.  He also installed pro-Trump loyalists in those positions.

A one-time associate of Steve Bannon, Peck also ordered an internal investigation after VOA broadcast a video report of now President-elect Joe Biden’s presidential campaign after Peck claimed that the video was favorable to Biden.

Peck also rescinded agency guidance that isolated USAGM reporters from the political influence of their superiors, an action made in response to the lawsuit filed by five former USAGM executives fired by Peck who claimed Peck violated the so-called “firewall rule.”

Judge Beryl Howell ruled late Friday evening that Peck was enjoined from making personnel decisions or communicating with field offices and reporters.  It also prevents Peck or his underlings from conducting investigations into reports or reporters.

“The court confirmed that the First Amendment forbids Mr. Pack and his team from attempting to take control of these journalistic outlets, from investigating their journalists for purported ‘bias,’ and from attempting to influence or control their reporting content,” Lee Crain, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

 

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