(UnitedVoice.com) – The First Amendment is often boiled down to the right to free speech — a fundamental tenet given to every American by the Founding Fathers. However, the amendment covers religion, expression, assembly, and petition rights as well. The text states that Congress cannot make any laws restricting speech, the press, religion, or the right to assemble or petition the government. Still, there are restrictions to the clause involving fighting words, obscenities, defamation, and slander. Recently, the Consortium for Independent Journalism sued NewsGuard Technologies — an online “watchdog” organization — for defamation and restricting its First Amendment rights.
On October 23, Consortium News filed a lawsuit in Manhattan claiming the Pentagon’s Cyber Command hired NewsGuard to identify, report, and censor US news organizations that disagreed with the country’s official positions on foreign policy. The plaintiff believes the defendant strong-armed the media into changing stories about Ukraine, Russia, and Syria to align with the US government. According to the suit, NewsGuard has flagged over 20,000 Consortium News articles and videos since 1995 as “disinformation.”
The complaint details the alleged agreement between Cyber Command and NewsGuard, claiming the Department of Defense (DOD) awarded the organization a nearly $750,000 contract in late 2021 for its “Misinformation Fingerprints” program meant to identify any news outlet sharing information about Ukraine and Russia that didn’t align with the US or its allies. In fact, Consortium claimed that NewsGuard admitted to the relationship.
Consortium is asking the court to permanently sever the alleged partnership between the US government and NewsGuard, state that any such relationship is unconstitutional, and pay over $13 million in damages.
Consortium News’ attorney, Bruce Afran, said the alleged “arrangement” between the DOD and the defendant threatens the “First Amendment rights of all American media.” He said when media outlets are attacked for reporting a different point of view, it causes them to censor themselves, thereby depriving the public of opposing viewpoints meant to spark debate.
In early 2022, NewsGuard announced it was working with the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, Joint Research Center, to monitor and track misinformation. At the time, the organization said its ratings database covered nearly all online engagement news and information sources in the UK, US, Germany, France, and Italy — with slightly less reach in Canada.
The watchdog organization was founded by Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz to counter misinformation and stop false narratives from spreading online. NewsGuard has not formally responded to the suit.
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