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House Democrats have moved to remove television channels that they don't like. Two congresspersons in the US House of Representatives sent letters to broadcasters asking them to remove Fox News, Newsmax, and One America News Network, believing somehow that they had the authority or the right to do so. Instead, it was shameless audacity.
The letter was sent to AT&T, Google parent company Alphabet, Apple, Roku, Hulu, Verizon, Comcast, Charter Communications, Dish, Cox Communications, Altice USA, and Amazon.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) announced the letter, along with her co-signer Jerry McNerney (D-CA).
The congressmen begin with the premise that "Our country’s public discourse is plagued by misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and lies. These phenomena undergird the radicalization of seditious individuals who committed acts of insurrection on January 6th, and it contributes to a growing distrust of public health measures necessary to crush the pandemic."
They then note their concern that the broadcaster, each letter individually addressed and name of broadcaster inserted, "plays in disseminating misinformation to millions of… subscribers, and we write to you today to request additional information about what actions Hulu is taking to address these issues."
They write that "not all TV news sources are the same. Some purported news outlets have long been misinformation rumor 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."
Then they name the outlets that they want these broadcasters to suppress, saying "Right-wing media outlets, like Newsmax, One American News Network (OANN), and Fox News all aired misinformation about the November 2020 elections." They say that these networks also "have been key vectors of spreading misinformation related to the pandemic."
"Yet, to our knowledge," they continue, "the cable, satellite, and over-the-top companies that disseminate these media outlets to American viewers have done nothing in response to the misinformation being aired by these outlets."
They ask the broadcasters seven questions:
- "What moral or ethical principles (including those related to journalistic integrity, violence, medical information, and public health) do you apply in deciding which channels to carry or when to take adverse actions against a channel?
- "Do you require, through contracts or otherwise, that the channels you carry abide by any content guidelines? If so, please provide a copy of the guidelines.
- "How many of your subscribers viewed Fox News on YouTube TV for each of the four weeks preceding the November 3, 2020 elections and the January 6, 2021 attacks on the Capitol? Please specify the number of subscribers that tuned in to each channel.
- "What steps did you take prior to, on, and following the November 3, 2020 elections and the January 6, 2021 attacks to monitor, respond to, and reduce the spread of disinformation, including encouragement or incitement of violence by channels your company disseminates to millions of Americans? Please describe each step that you took and when it was taken.
- "Have you taken any adverse actions against a channel, including Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN, for using your platform to disseminate disinformation related directly or indirectly to the November 3, 2020 elections, the January 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection, or COVID-19 misinformation? If yes, please describe each action, when it was taken, and the parties involved.
- "Have you ever taken any actions against a channel for using your platform to disseminate any disinformation? If yes, please describe each action and when it was taken.
- "Are you planning to continue carrying Fox News on YouTube TV both now and beyond any contract renewal date? Are you planning to continue carrying Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN apps in the Play Store? If so, why?"
In a statement released on Twitter, Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Commissioner Brendan Carr condemned the action of the congressmen, saying "What time does the Democrats' book burning party start?"
He said that "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."
Carr concluded by saying "I call on my FCC colleagues to join me in publicly denouncing this attempt to stifle political speech and independent news judgement."
The letter was sent in advance of a hearing set to take place in the House on Wednesday, in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Convened by
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA) the Communications and Technology Subcommittee will hold a fully remote hearing on "Fanning the Flames: Disinformation and Extremism in the Media."
The reason for the hearing is that "The prolonged severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the attack on our Capitol on January 6 have driven home a frightening reality: the spread of disinformation and extremism by traditional news media presents a tangible and destabilizing threat. Some broadcasters' and cable networks' increasing reliance on conspiracy theories and misleading or patently false information raises questions about their devotion to journalistic integrity. We look forward to hearing from media experts about what is being done and what more can be done to address this growing problem moving forward."