The US Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Office of General Counsel and Media Bureau on Monday rejected a petition by Free Press, an advocacy group, demanding a government investigation into broadcasters that aired statements by President Donald Trump during White House Coronavirus Task Force briefings and related commentary regarding the COVID-19 pandemic by other on-air personalities.
The Free Press filed an emergency petition last month that points to disinformation being aired during the Trump administration’s daily press briefings on COVID-19, including statements by Trump that may have led to the death of an Arizona man. “The FCC possesses both the authority and the responsibility to ensure the public airwaves are utilized in the public interest. … This duty is heightened in times of crisis.”
The FCC responded that the Free Press’ petition seeks remedies that would dangerously curtail the freedom of the press embodied in the First Amendment. “The decision also makes clear that the FCC will neither act as a roving arbiter of broadcasters’ editorial judgments nor discourage them from airing breaking news events involving government officials in the midst of the current global pandemic.”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the federal government will not investigate broadcasters for their editorial judgments simply because a special interest group is angry at the views being expressed on the air. “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.”
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