FCC Rejects Petition that Would Have ‘Dangerously’ Curtailed Free Speech

Ajit Pai
Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Office of General Counsel and Media Bureau rejected a petition by the progressive Free Press on Monday to “weaponize” the agency against broadcasters and conservatives to censor political speech.

Free Press recently petitioned the FCC to censor broadcasters from showing President Donald Trump’s press conferences on the coronavirus outbreak.

“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,” Free Press wrote in its petition. “And certainly the FCC has a duty to rein in radio broadcasters that seed confusion with lies and disinformation.”

The FCC denied the petition in a letter to the Free Press, contending that the proposal “misconstrues the Commission’s rules and seeks remedies that would dangerously curtail the freedom of the press embodied in the First Amendment.”

 FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr told Breitbart News in an interview last week that the petition is a “dangerous and sweeping attempt by the left to weaponize the FCC against broadcasters and conservatives and politicians.” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement Monday that under his administration, the agency will continue to protect free speech.
Pai said:
Under my leadership, the FCC has always stood firmly in defense of Americans’ First Amendment freedoms, including freedom of the press.  And so long as I am Chairman of this agency, we always will.  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.  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.

In its letter to Free Press, the FCC concluded that:
  • The FCC “does not — and cannot and will not — act as a self-appointed, free-roving arbiter of truth in journalism.”
  • The FCC will not discourage broadcasters from airing breaking news events that involve evolving circumstances during a global pandemic.
  • The Free Press petition misinterprets the agency’s rules.

The FCC letter noted lobbying broadcasters to add disclosures would add “significant burdens,” which could “chill news coverage at a time when information is one of the only weapons the American public has to protect itself from a contagious and deadly virus.”

The agency added that free speech serves as the best tool for finding the truth. The FCC noted:

The rapid and comprehensive coverage of the present pandemic, free from burdensome disclaimers, agency investigation, or other government oversight, advances the public interest in maximizing information flow, while facilitating the vetting of statements by public officials via the ordinary journalistic process.

In short, we will not second-guess broadcasters (much less deploy the formal investigative power of the state against them) that are serving a critical function in providing the public comprehensive coverage of the current public health crisis and the government’s response.

We leave to the press its time-honored and constitutionally protected role in testing the claims made by our political leaders—as well as those made by national advocacy organizations.

“The Federal Communications Commission believes that freedom of the press is essential to a free society and a functioning democracy,” the FCC concluded in its letter to Free Press.

Sean Moran is a congressional reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @SeanMoran3

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