The Federal Communications Commission has rejected a demand from a far-left news advocacy organization to censor President Donald Trump's coronavirus briefings.
Free Press, a progressive media organization, filed an emergency petition with the FCC last week asking for intervention on the basis of public health, arguing that Trump and other broadcasters, like Rush Limbaugh, were spreading misinformation about COVID-19, therefore putting the public health at risk.
In its petition, Free Press characterized the situation as "a life or death issue," saying:
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.
For these reasons, we urge the FCC to conduct an urgent examination into the extent to which broadcasters have aired hoaxes and false or misleading information about COVID-19, and immediately issue an emergency policy statement or enforcement guidance recommending that broadcasters prominently disclose when information they air is false or scientifically suspect.
But the FCC did not buy Free Press's argument.
"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," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement, the Verge reported.
"In short, we will not censor the news," Pai declared.
In specific detail, the FCC explained that Free Press's demands are not in the purview of the FCC — let alone constitutional.
"The Commission does not — and cannot and will not — act as a self-appointed, free-roving arbiter of truth in journalism. 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," the FCC explained.
"Instead, we conclude that the antidote to the alleged harms raised by Free Press is — ironically enough — a free press," the agency said.