Seven foreign journalists who were fired during Donald Trump’s administration from a government-funded media organisation have sued the company for breach of contract and making false allegations against them.
The journalists — three of whom were forced to leave the country — argue in their complaints against the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) that their livelihoods were significantly hurt due to “wrongful termination” and because of the false accusations that they were disloyal to America.
They also claim that the government-funded company “deceitfully” backtracked the termination documents to make it look like that the agency was following the proper procedures for how to hasten their departure.
They also claimed that they were terminated without any written notice, as was mandated per their contract.
In June 2020, Michael Pack, a conservative filmmaker and CEO of USAGM had said that being “a journalist is a great cover for a spy” and that “J-1 visa holders might try to penetrate USAGM.”
He also refused to renew the visa applications of more than 30 journalists. And this led them to lose their jobs.
Three of the seven journalists who filed the lawsuits against the company — Valdya Baraputri of Indonesia, Paula Alves Silva and Julia Riera of Spain — were forced to leave the country.
The US government has, so far, not filed a formal response to the complaints and sought an extension from court.
The lawsuits by journalists against USAGM also say that the journalists who were fired from their jobs were not given an opportunity to defend themselves against “false” and “vague” accusations of being disloyal to the country.
USAGM spokesperson Laurie Moy said: “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. We have achieved a great deal, and continue to work to right any outstanding wrongs.”
The company didn’t address the specific claims made in the complaint.
One of the journalists fired by the company, Valladares Perez, said in her lawsuit that the termination “devastated her career” and led to a “significant financial, personal and professional harm.”
Another journalist has accused the company of muzzling their voices under the Trump administration.
Some of the journalists who sued USAGM have been offered their jobs back, Politico reported.
All the seven who filed the lawsuits are seeking to recover back pay and related damages, according to one of their attorneys.
The USAGM was hoping that current US President Joe Biden would make government broadcasting a priority. But so far, even though it is a Senate-confirmed position, the White House still has not selected someone to lead it.
Sources told Politico that Amanda Bennett, the former director of Voice Of America — who resigned shortly after Mr Pack arrived — is being considered to lead the organisation.
The lawsuits meanwhile also revealed that Mr Pack gave no evidence or proof that the foreign journalists posed a security threat to the country.
Burt Braverman, the attorney representing the journalists, said: “USAGM’s refusal to make them whole for the losses they suffered, is a real disservice to a group of loyal, committed professional journalists. USAGM needs to do right.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies