FCC declines request to probe broadcasters airing Donald Trump’s coronavirus ‘disinformation’

FCC declines request to probe broadcasters airing Donald Trump’s coronavirus ‘disinformation’

The Federal Communications Commission on Monday denied a request that it rein in outlets broadcasting President Trump’s press conferences about the novel coronavirus pandemic, rebuking a media reform group that claimed airing his remarks has caused “substantial public harm.”

Free Press, a progressive advocacy organization that made the request, had asked the FCC to investigate the broadcasting of allegedly deadly misinformation by outlets carrying Mr. Trump’s comments about the health crisis without qualification, including particularly his touting an anti-malarial drug as a possible treatment for COVID-19, the contagious disease the coronavirus causes.

In an emergency petition filed late last month, Free Press wrote that Mr. Trump mischaracterized the efficiency of hydroxychloroquine during a recent press conference about the coronavirus, resulting in a nationwide shortage of the drug and prompting an Arizona man to ingest a substance contained it, dying shortly thereafter from poisoning.

“When the president tells dangerous lies about a public health emergency, broadcasters have a choice: don’t air them, or put those lies in context with disclaimers noting that they may be untrue and are unverified. And certainly the FCC has a duty to rein in radio broadcasters that seed confusion with lies and disinformation,” Free Press co-CEO Jessica J. González and senior policy counsel Gaurav Laroia wrote March 26.

Free Press proposed in the emergency petition that the FCC probe outlets for broadcasting hoaxes and false or misleading information about COVID-19, and the group suggested the watchdog issue an emergency policy statement recommending that outlets disclose when the information they air is “false or scientifically suspect.”

The FCC responded to that petition this week by reasoning that the constitutional right to free speech precludes the agency from taking action as requested, however.

“Even assuming for the sake of argument that Free Press’s assertions regarding any lack of veracity were true, false speech enjoys some First Amendment protection, and section 326 of the Communications Act, reflecting First Amendment values, prohibits the Commission from interfering with freedom of the press or censoring broadcast communications,” FCC general counsel Thomas M. Johnson Jr. and Michelle M. Carey, the chief of the FCC’s media bureau, responded Monday.

“The federal government will not — and never should — investigate broadcasters for their editorial judgments simply because a special interest group is angry at the views being expressed on the air as well as those expressing them,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai added in a statement. “In short, we will not censor the news. Instead, consistent with the First Amendment, we leave it to broadcasters to determine for themselves how to cover this national emergency, including live events involving our nation’s leaders.”

More than 386,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the U.S. since late January, according to data maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

Scientists have not yet discovered a cure for COVID-19, which has killed more than 80,000 people around the world, including over 12,000 in the U.S.

Mr. Trump has nevertheless claimed that hydroxychloroquine could potentially help treat COVID-19, and on Saturday he said he might even try it himself despite testing negative for the disease.

“I may take it,” said Mr. Trump. “I’ll have to ask my doctors about that, but I may take it.”

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Source : Andrew Blake Link

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