Foreign journalists sue U.S. broadcasting org after being fired during Trump administration

Seven foreign journalists who were fired from the U.S. Agency for Global Media by the Trump administration have filed a lawsuit against the organization alleging wrongful termination and breach of contract.

In their complaints, the journalists argued that their livelihoods and careers were greatly impacted by the firings and are thus seeking to be compensated in back pay. In addition, most of them are also claiming the agency mislead by backdating their firing documents to make it seem as though officials were following correct procedures in quickening their separation, Politico reported Monday.

The outlet went on to report that three of the seven — Valdya Baraputri of Indonesia and Paula Alves Silva and Julia Riera of Spain — had to leave the U.S. after their termination.

The suits are in response to firings by Michael Pack, a conservative filmmaker whom then-President Donald Trump appointed in June 2020 to oversee the government-run media group, who “expressed his distrust of foreign journalists working for the various broadcast entities under the USAGM umbrella” and who later”refused to renew more than 30 of their visas,” Politico reported.

Pack told The Federalist in an interview published in August 2020 that the agency was failing to adhere to its founding mandate to be objective and that journalists appeared to be biased against the administration’s fundamental policies and objectives.

“It’s one thing for CNN or MSNBC, or Fox for that matter to have a point of view, but this agency is required by law to be objective and represent all points of view. So it has to adhere to those standards, whatever the rest of the media does,” he told The Federalist Radio Hour.

“There needs to be a separation between us the political appointees and what journalists are reporting. I would never tell a journalist how to cover a story or what to say,” Pack added. “However, I am there to make sure that the procedures and practices that ensure the highest journalistic standards and the contract of the [Voice of America] charter are fulfilled.”

He also said that posing as “a journalist is a great cover for a spy,” adding that J-1 visa holders could attempt to “penetrate” the USAGM.

Carolina Valladares Perez, a former Middle East war correspondent who worked for the BBC and was earning bonuses as a broadcaster with Voice of America’s Spanish service, has also filed suit.

“Plaintiff has since disappeared from the news radar, which has had devastating consequences,” her complaint notes, adding that she has only managed to earn a few thousand dollars doing freelance work since being terminated in August 2020.

“With no show or time on-air, it has been extremely difficult to find a position as a news anchor. Over time, the audience forgets about prior on-air presence,” the complaint adds. “Plaintiff has found it nearly impossible to get her career back on track.”

In seeking more than $100,000 in back compensation, her suit claims her career has been “devastated” which has led to “significant financial, personal and professional harm.”

In February, the USAGM reinstated five people who were dismissed in August 2020 by Pack.

“Deputy Director for Operations [Matt] Walsh, Chief Strategy Officer Shawn Powers, Chief Financial Officer Grant Turner, General Counsel David Kligerman, and Executive Director Oanh Tran have all returned to their positions at the agency,” Kelu Chao, acting CEO of the agency, said in an email obtained by The Hill.

President Biden dismissed Pack within hours of taking office Jan. 20.

“USAGM leadership has been working since January to build back the agency following actions taken by the previous CEO. Acting CEO [Kelu] Chao and her team are fully committed to seeing this work through,” USAGM spokesperson Laurie Moy said, according to Politico.

“We have achieved a great deal, and continue to work to right any outstanding wrongs.”

The journalists filed their complaints in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Politico noted.

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Jon Dougherty

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