An independent news publisher on Monday sued the federal government and a “watchdog” group that touts itself as a media fact-checker, claiming First Amendment violations and defamation.
Consortium for Independent Journalism filed the lawsuit against NewsGuard Technologies, Inc. and the U.S. government in the Southern District of New York, accusing the organization of defaming Consortium News and conspiring with the government to violate the First Amendment.
The United States of America and NewsGuard “are engaged in a pattern and practice of labelling, stigmatizing and defaming American media organizations that oppose or dissent from American foreign and defense policy, particularly as to Russia and Ukraine,” the lawsuit reads.
According to the lawsuit, NewsGuard and the federal government formed an alliance under an element of the Intelligence Community known as the Pentagon Cyber Command.
The contract between the two defendants allegedly coerces news outlets to “alter viewpoints” through a NewsGuard program called the “misinformation fingerprints” project, which reportedly received a $750,000 government grant in September 2021.
The lawsuit claims NewsGuard’s software has targeted and defamed Consortium News since the outlet was formed in 1995.
“NewsGuard attaches automatically (and arbitrarily) its electronic ‘brand safety’ or ‘nutrition’ labels to all works of a targeted media organization that appear on a NewsGuard subscriber’s search engine and social media platforms, thereby defaming the entirety of a news organization’s output and slandering its reputation for integrity,” the lawsuit reads.
Bruce Afran, Consortium News’s attorney, reportedly said, “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.”
“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.
The publisher seeks a permanent injunction for the court to deem the program unconstitutional, prohibit the federal government and NewsGuard from continuing the alliance, and more than $13 million in damages.
The independent news publisher’s lawsuit comes a week after former State Department official Mike Benz, executive director of the Foundation for Freedom Online, claimed NewsGuard allegedly partnered with the European Union to develop codes to combat “mis- and disinformation” on the X social media platform.
The claim sparked a series of posts accusing NewsGaurd of working with other government agencies and organizations to discredit dissenting views from news outlets and influencers.
X-owner Elon Musk called NewsGuard a “scam” and said that the organization should be “disbanded immediately,” noting that “[a]nything with a name that sounds like it came out of an Orwell novel should never be trusted.”
This is crazy! https://t.co/1jurj3sUnW
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 19, 2023
NewsGuard’s Matt Skibinski reportedly called the organization “an alternative” to government suppression.
“NewsGuard was created as an alternative to the black-box algorithms that decide which news content is promoted and which is not on Big Tech platforms — and as an alternative to any government censorship of content,” he said in a statement to Newsmax last week.