An influential far-left media group has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to develop a wide-ranging censorship plan of President Donald Trump’s press conferences. “Free Press,” the group calling for the censorship of broadcasts of the press conferences, says in its petition that it’s a “life and death” issue. They are asking the FCC to limit the public’s right to hear directly from the president about the federal government’s handling of the global pandemic, that any broadcasts of his press conferences come with a pronounced disclaimer, and that media figures with different political views than the progressive organization be further censored.
“This is a sweeping and dangerous attempt by the far left to weaponize the FCC against conservative media outlets and elected officials. They want to turn the FCC into a roving speech police empowered to go after the left’s political opponents,” says FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr.
While the requests are extreme, Free Press has previously taken far-left views about government control of the media and turned them into orthodox Democratic Party positions. The group successfully lobbied the FCC under President Obama to regulate the internet via Title II “net neutrality” rules, later repealed by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has described Free Press as “a spectacularly misnamed Beltway lobbying group.”
FCC rules regulating the broadcast of intentional hoaxes could be used to limit media coverage of President Trump, Free Press argues. The Commission’s previous ruling that the government has a “compelling interest in preventing substantial public harm,” could be interpreted to prevent unregulated media coverage of the president, Free Press argues. The group posits no limit to its theory, setting up a system where the FCC could shut down any group pushing ideas it doesn’t like.
To make their case, they cite President Trump’s discussion of an anti-malarial treatment that some doctors had been using to treat COVID-19. He specifically said that even if it didn’t work as treatment, it had been used for so long in humans, that the risk was low. “It’s been around for a long time, so we know if things don’t go as planned, it’s not going to kill anybody,” he said.
Free Press argued that a man without COVID-19 who died after ingesting fish tank cleaner at home, outside the direction of any medical professional, was a victim of Trump’s remarks and that therefore its censorship plan should be adopted. Citing anti-Trump activists who blamed Trump for this death, Free Press called Trump’s support for the treatment “deadly disinformation.” The group also claimed that Trump had engaged in a “mischaracterization of the efficacy” of hydroxychloroquine.
In recent days, the FDA approved the use of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 patients. And the New York Times conceded that the drug “helped to speed the recovery” of a group of patients who were stricken by the Wuhan Coronavirus.
Free Press cofounder and longtime board member Robert W. McChesney is an avowed socialist. He has made his views clear, saying “In the end, there is no real answer but to remove brick by brick the capitalist system itself, rebuilding the entire society on socialist principles.” He also said of his work, “[w]e need to do whatever we can to limit capitalist propaganda, regulate it, minimize it, and perhaps even eliminate it.” He has also praised Venezuela’s control of the media.
Free Press’s censorship plan echoes one suggested last year by Democrat FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. Her plan was to censor e-cigarette ads on television in the name of “public interest.” The plan has statutory and constitutional obstacles, notes Jacob Sullum.
Particularly since the election of Trump in 2016, progressive groups have been making a concerted effort to use the government to limit the expression of conservative speech. These prominent groups and representatives are openly signaling that they would use the power of the FCC to censor conservative speech if they were to gain control of the commission under a Democratic president.