The Federal Communications Commission will not file misinformation complaints against broadcasters broadcasting President Trump's daily press conferences, the commission announced today.
The FCC's announcement came in response to an emergency request by advocacy group Free Press, which had asked the commission to investigate "the spread of false information about COVID-19 through broadcast media across the United States." . In particular, Free Press alleged that the President was spreading misinformation about the efficacy of the drug hydroxychloroquine, which was wrongly promoted as a miracle cure for the ongoing pandemic.
Commonly prescribed as an antimalarial drug, hydroxychloroquine has not been widely tested as a treatment for COVID-19, and there is no medically significant evidence that it is effective against the disease. However, the drug has been widely promoted in the media, being mentioned by Fox News more than 100 times over the course of three days.
The President has also expressed enthusiasm about the drug's effectiveness, referring to it frequently in his daily press conferences. "A very powerful drug for certain things, and it is a very successful drug," Trump said at a press conference on March 28, when he faced skepticism about the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine. "There is reason to believe that it could be successful here … we have had some tremendous results."
But despite the ongoing controversy, the FCC declined to open proceedings on the matter, citing inevitable First Amendment problems if the agency intervened. "The federal government will not, and should never, investigate stations for their editorial trials simply because a special interest group is angry at the opinions expressed on the air," FCC President Ajit Pai said in a statement. . "In short, we will not censor the news."
Free Press did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
FCC officials elaborated on this argument in more detail in the official response to the Free Press request. "The Commission does not act, and cannot act, and will not act as a self-appointed and free arbiter of truth in journalism," they write. "False speech enjoys some First Amendment protection, and section 326 of the Communications Act, which reflects the values of the First Amendment, prohibits the Commission from interfering with press freedom or censoring broadcast communications."
While it does not officially rule out future actions, the vehemence of the commission's response makes similar efforts unlikely to succeed in the future. "We will not question broadcasters (let alone deploy the state's formal investigative power against them) that play a critical role in providing the public with comprehensive coverage of the current public health crisis and the government's response," he continues. the letter.
The FCC has also been receiving censorship pressure from the president, whose campaign has warned television stations that issuing a specific Priorities USA ad criticizing Trump's response to the coronavirus could "jeopardize his station's license." So far, there are no indications that the FCC has taken steps to revoke licenses in response to the threat.