The United States government and internet “watchdog” NewsGuard Technologies, Inc. were sued today in federal court in Manhattan for First Amendment violations and defamation by news organization Consortium for Independent Journalism, a nonprofit that publishes Consortium News.
Consortium News‘s court filing charges the Pentagon’s Cyber Command, an element of the Intelligence Community, with contracting with NewsGuard to identify, report and abridge the speech of American media organizations that dissent from U.S. official positions on foreign policy.
In the course of its contract with the Pentagon, NewsGuard is “acting jointly or in concert with the United States to coerce news organizations to alter viewpoints” as to Ukraine, Russia, and Syria, imposing a form of “censorship and repression of views” that differ or dissent from policies of the United States and its allies, the complaint says.
Watch the press conference announcing the lawsuit on Monday:
“The First Amendment rights of all American media are threatened by this arrangement with the Defense Department to defame and abridge the speech of U.S. media groups,” said Bruce Afran, Consortium News‘s attorney.
“When media groups are condemned by the government as ‘anti-U.S.’ and are accused of publishing ‘false content’ because they disagree with U.S. policies, the result is self-censorship and a destruction of the public debate intended by the First Amendment,” Afran said.
NewsGuard uses its software to tag targeted news sites, including all 20,000+ Consortium News articles an videos published since 1995, with warnings to “proceed with caution,” telling NewsGuard subscribers that Consortium News produces “disinformation,” “false content” and is an “anti-U.S.” media organization, even though NewsGuard only took issue with a total of six CN articles and none of its videos.
The suit comes at a time when many in Congress and elsewhere have charged the U.S. government with using private entities and internet platforms as proxies to suppress free speech in violation of the First Amendment.
The complaint seeks a permanent injunction declaring the joint program unconstitutional; barring the government and NewsGuard from continuing such practices and more than $13 million in damages for defamation and civil rights violations.