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FCC Denies Free Press Petition on Coronavirus Coverage

(Image credit: Free Press)

WASHINGTON—A Free Press petition that demand a government investigation into broadcasters that have covered President Donald Trump’s statements during White House Coronavirus Task Force briefings has been “wholly denied” by the FCC.

The proposed investigation would have looked into broadcasters who have aired the president’s statements during briefings, as well as related commentary regarding the pandemic by other on-air personalities. The petition sprang up from criticism that the president was making misleading statements about the severity of coronavirus and efforts to contain it, including some calls for broadcasters not to air the daily briefings in full.

In a letter, the FCC’s General Counsel Thomas M. Johnson Jr., and Media Bureau Chief Michelle Carey, wrote that an investigation “would dangerously curtail the freedom of the press embodied in the First Amendment and misconstrues the commission’s rules.” They wrote that the FCC will not serve as a “roving arbiter” of broadcasters’ editorial judgement.

FCC Chairman Pai also issued a statement regarding the decision, saying that he has defended the First Amendment as FCC chairman and would continue to do so.

“The federal government will not—and never should—investigate broadcasters for their editorial judgements simply because a special interest group is angry at the views being expressed on the air as well as those expressing them,” Pai said. “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.”

The Free Press had no public comment in response to the FCC’s decision at the time of publication.