Resource: Grant Turner v. U.S. Agency for Global Media

By: Global Freedom of Expression

January 1, 2021

Global Freedom of Expression

The United States (U.S.) District Court for the District of Columbia granted a motion for a preliminary injunction against the defendants in respect of actions taken by them within the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) that likely violated the First Amendment. The case concerned six plaintiffs from USAGM, one of whom was Program Director of the news outlet Voice of America (VOA). They objected to the actions of USAGM CEO Michael Pack and five others at USAGM, who were accused of interfering with personnel, interfering with content, investigating journalists, instituting controlling policies, and mismanaging USAGM. The plaintiffs claimed that these actions violated a host of rules and statutes, most notably the First Amendment. Chief Justice Beryl A. Howell determined that all the violation claims failed on a jurisdictional basis except for the violation of the First Amendment. The Court agreed that free speech protections did apply to VOA journalists. Upon reviewing each of the defendants’ actions, it noted that there was a violation of the First Amendment and that actions against the VOA journalists resulted in “self-censorship and the chilling of First Amendment expression.” [p. 74] In particular, actions related to interference with personnel, interference with content, and investigations into journalists exceeded any permissible oversight and were likely unconstitutional. The legal standard for a preliminary injunction was met and such activities by the defendants were enjoined.