Open Technology Fund v. Pack

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA OPEN TECHNOLOGY FUND, et al., Plaintiffs, Civil Action No. 20-1710 (BAH) v. Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell MICHAEL PACK, in his official capacity as Chief Executive Officer and Director of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, Defendant. MEMORANDUM OPINION For nearly 80 years, international broadcasting sponsored by the United States has served as a trusted and authoritative global news source, a forum for the expression of diverse viewpoints on the most pressing topics of the day, a model of journalistic excellence and independence, and a beacon of hope for those trapped within authoritarian regimes. Despite being funded by American taxpayers, U.S. international broadcasting has typically remained free of governmental interference. Indeed, its autonomy and its commitment to providing objective news coverage has often been viewed as key to its ability to advance the interests of the United States abroad. Our country’s commitment to this model of cultural export has largely been viewed as a rousing success, helping to undermine and topple some of history’s most oppressive regimes—including Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union—by spreading freedom and democracy around the globe. The current Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) of the United States Agency for Global Media (“USAGM”)—the defendant, Michael Pack—is accused of putting this legacy at serious risk. Since taking office less than a month ago, Pack has upended U.S.-sponsored international broadcasting. Most relevant to the current dispute, on June 17, 2020, Pack unilaterally removed 1 the operational heads and directors of four USAGM-funded organizations—Open Technology Fund (“OTF”), Radio Free Europe (“RFE”), Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (collectively, “Networks”)1—and replaced the directors with five members of the current Trump Administration as well as an employee of Liberty Counsel Action, a conservative advocacy organization. The backlash was instantaneous. Certain members of the press dubbed the event a “Wednesday night massacre.” E.g., Julian Borger, Voice of America: independence fears after Trump ally purges senior officials, THE GUARDIAN (June 18, 2020, 1:37 pm EDT), trump-ally-purges-senior-officials; Jennifer Hansler and Brian Stelter, ‘Wednesday night massacre’ as Trump appointee takes over at global media agency, CNN BUSINESS (June 18, 2020, 12:20 PM ET), michael-pack/index.html. Members of Congress from both sides of the political aisle expressed serious concern about the terminations. See Press Release, Congressman Michael McCaul and Senator Blackburn, McCaul, Blackburn Statement on OTF Firings, Organization’s Future (June 19, 2020), available at; Sarah Ellison, How Trump’s obsessions with media and loyalty coalesced in a battle for Voice of America, WASH. POST (June 19, 2020, 4:52 PM EDT), media-and-loyalty-coalesced-in-a-battle-for-voice-of-america/2020/06/19/f57dcfe0-b1b1-11ea- 8758-bfd1d045525a_story.html [hereinafter Ellison, A battle for Voice of America] (quoting statement from Representative Eliot Engel, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives). Senator Robert Menendez, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on 1 OTF is not a broadcaster. Rather, OTF “advance[s] Internet freedom in repressive environments by supporting the applied research, development, implementation, and maintenance of technologies that provide secure and uncensored access to the Agency’s content and the ...

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