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Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have sent letters to the CEOs of U.S. cable and telecommunications companies, as well as technology firms that disseminate video content, asking how they handle “disinformation” spread through conservative news outlets, according to a copy of the letters viewed by The Hollywood Reporter.
“Our country’s public discourse is plagued by misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and lies,” the letters begin. “Nearly half of Americans get their news primarily from TV. However, 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.”
The letters proceed to call out by name Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and One America News Network, calling them “key vectors of spreading misinformation related to the pandemic.”
The letters, written by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), were sent on Monday to AT&T CEO John Stankey, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg, Roku CEO Anthony Wood, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Charter CEO Tom Rutledge, Cox CEO Patrick Esser, Dish CEO Erik Carlson, Altice CEO Dexter Goei, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, and Hulu President Kelly Campbell.
Companies like Comcast, Dish and AT&T sell traditional TV packages through cable or satellite packages, while Alphabet, Roku and Hulu all offer users the ability to pay for streaming video bundles that include some or all of the channels cited in the letter. Eshoo and McNerney write that “to our knowledge, the cable, satellite, and over-the-top companies that disseminate these media outlets to American viewers have done nothing in response to the misinformation aired by these outlets.”
They go on to ask 7 questions to each of the CEOs, including what “moral or ethical principles” are involved in the decision to carry channels, whether they have content guidelines that apply to these channels, and what actions if any, they have taken to reduce the spread of disinformation around the election or the COVID-19 pandemic.
The final question asks the CEOs: “Are you planning to continue carrying Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN on Roku both now and beyond any contract renewal date? If so, why?”
The letters were sent ahead of a Feb. 24 hearing called “Fanning the flames: Extremism and disinformation in the media.” Witnesses in the hearing will include former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien, George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley and Emily Bell, director of The Tow Center for Digital Media at Columbia University.
In a statement, Fox News responded to the letters, writing that “As the most watched cable news channel throughout 2020, Fox News Media provided millions of Americans with in-depth reporting, breaking news coverage and clear opinion. For individual members of Congress to highlight political speech they do not like and demand cable distributors engage in viewpoint discrimination sets a terrible precedent.”
Newsmax also responded in a statement: “The House Democrats’ attack on free speech and basic First Amendment rights should send chills down the spines of all Americans. Newsmax reported fairly and accurately on allegations and claims made by both sides during the recent election contest. We did not see that same balanced coverage when CNN and MSNBC pushed for years the Russian collusion hoax, airing numerous claims and interviews with Democrat leaders that turned out to be patently false.”
Republican FCC commissioner Brendan Carr released a statement of his own, calling the letter “a chilling transgression of the free speech rights that every media outlet in this country enjoys… “To the House Democrats that used their official letterhead to launch this inquiry, I would say this: Your demand to know the ‘moral principles’ that guide a private entity’s decision about what news to carry cannot be reconciled with bedrock principles of free speech and journalistic freedom.”
Updated 9:30 A.M. with statement from Fox News.
Updated 9:50 P.M. with statement from Newsmax.
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