FCC Democrats silent on calls for US cable providers to censor right wing news

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Two Democrat US Representatives have written to a bunch of cable and streaming providers calling on them to do something about claimed misinformation on TV news.

You’re not going to believe this, but it turns out all of this misinformation is spread entirely by TV channels that are considered to have a right wing leaning. According to Jerry McNerney and Anna Eshoo, these are the only sources of biased or misleading content the US should be concerned about. Furthermore, so egregious are these purveyors of mendacities that new precedent should be set by communications providers preventing their malevolent propaganda even reaching impressionable citizens.

“Nearly half of Americans get their news primarily from TV,” wrote the two in a joint statement. “However, not all TV news sources are the same. Some purported news outlets have long been misinformation rumour mills and conspiracy theory hotbeds that produce content that leads to real harm. Misinformation on TV has led to our current polluted information environment that radicalizes individuals to commit seditious acts and rejects public health best practices, among other issues in our public discourse.”

They sent near-identical letters to AT&T, Verizon, Roku, Amazon, Apple, Comcast, Charter, Dish, Cox, Altice, Alphabet, and Hulu. The paragraph above makes an appearance, followed by this:

“Experts have noted that the right-wing media ecosystem is “much more susceptible…to disinformation, lies, and half-truths.” Right-wing media outlets, like Newsmax, One America News Network (OANN), and Fox News all aired misinformation about the November 2020 elections.

“For example, both Newsmax and OANN “ran incendiary reports” of false information following the elections and continue to support “an angry and dangerous subculture [that] will continue to operate semi-openly.” As a violent mob was breaching the doors of the Capitol, Newsmax’s coverage called the scene a “sort of a romantic idea.” Fox News, meanwhile, has spent years spewing misinformation about American politics.”

The letters conclude by demanding the provider justify their continued carrying of the above outlets, indicating a clear preference for them to be dropped and thus a call for blanket censorship of right wing media. We’re not aware of any public responses to these letters from any of the providers concerned, but surely none of them would willingly alienate half of their addressable market by openly discriminating against right wing views.

If anyone was going to try to force them it would presumably be the US communications regulator, the FCC. As we’ve often observed, the FCC itself is a politically partisan outfit, with commissioners openly affiliated with one of the two political parties. Inevitably only the Republican Commissioners have made any comment about these letters, with the Democrats keeping quiet for now.

“By writing letters to the cable providers and other regulated entities that carry these news media outlets, the Democrats are sending a message that is as clear as it is troubling—these regulated entities will pay a price if the targeted newsrooms do not conform to Democrats’ preferred political narratives,” said Commissioner Carr.  “This is a chilling transgression of the free speech rights that every media outlet in this country enjoys.

“Debate on matters of public interest should be robust, uninhibited, and wide open.  More speech is better than less.  Yet the concerted effort by Democrats to drive political dissent from the public square represents a marked departure from these First Amendment norms.  A newsroom’s decision about what stories to cover and how to frame them should be beyond the reach of any government official, not targeted by them.

“I call on my FCC colleagues to join me in publicly denouncing this attempt to stifle political speech and independent news judgment.”

“It is worrying that members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have found it appropriate or necessary to apply the overbroad and vague label of ‘misinformation’ to any media reportage that calls into question their preferred political narratives, and have sought to intimidate into silence those who would distribute on their platforms disfavored points of view,” said Commissioner Simington.

“This is particularly concerning because the House Energy and Commerce Committee supervises the Communications Act, and their statement could be read to imply that action will be taken under the Communications Act should the recipients not agree in advance to chill their speech. I share Commissioner Carr’s view that more, rather than less, speech is a desirable aim of public policy and the foundation of civic engagement, and I trust the American people to make up their own minds regarding to whom they choose to listen.”

We choose to take the lack of a statement from the other two Commissioners as a sign that they too think this is a step too far, but are compelled by tribal affiliation not to say as much publicly. If the providers are sensible they will have just replied with a generic acknowledgement, then decided to wait and see if the Representatives intend to follow through on their veiled threats.

The dissemination of inaccurate and misleading news is a problem but it’s certainly not restricted to the right wing media. The first half of the Trump presidency was dominated by incessant allegations of Russian collusion from left leaning news channels such as CNN and MSNBC, which proved to be completely groundless, but there’s no call for them to be taken off the US airwaves. Was that not misinformation? Partisan censorship has nothing to do with seeking truth and everything to do with seeking power. Accordingly it should be universally dismissed.

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