California Democratic Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney have written to a dozen cable, satellite and streaming companies calling on them to better combat disinformation — which they principally identify as Fox News Channel, Newsmax and One America News Network (OANN) — and grilling them on what they plan to do about it.
Fox said such letters set a "terrible" precedent.
Those were the only two signatories on the letters, but they are both on the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee.
The legislators came just short of calling on the distributors to drop those channels, but not by much. They said that "some purported news outlets have long been misinformation rumor mills and conspiracy theory hotbeds that produce content that leads to real harms," then hammered Fox, Newsmax and OANN, the latter two which became former President Donald Trump's news outlets of choice after something of a falling out with Fox over its coverage.
Among the answers to questions they wanted from the companies was "Are you planning to continue carrying Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN [fill in the platform] on TV both now and beyond any contract renewal date? If so, why?"
The letters went to top executives at AT&T, Verizon, Roku, Amazon, Apple, Comcast, Dish, Charter, Cox, Altice USA, Alphabet (Google), and Hulu.
The legislators have identified the sources of misinformation they want to know what the distributors are doing about as principally Fox, One America News Network and Newsmax, all of which they assert are right-wing outlets that spread election misinformation specifically and misinformation about politics in general.
Eshoo and McNerny want the following questions answered:
1. "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?
2. "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.
3. "How many of your subscribers tuned in to Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN on [Fill in the company's distribution platforms] for each of the four weeks preceding the Nov. 3, 2020 elections and the Jan. 6, 2021 attacks on the Capitol? Please specify the number of subscribers that tuned in to each channel.
4. "What steps did you take prior to, on, and following the Nov. 3, 2020 elections and the Jan. 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.
5. "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 Nov. 3, 2020 elections, the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection, or COVID-19 misinformation? If yes, please describe each action, when it was taken, and the parties involved.
6. "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.
7. "Are you planning to continue carrying Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN [fill in the platform] on TV both now and beyond any contract renewal date? If so, why?"
The letters comes in advance of a hearing this week on the role of traditional media in promoting disinformation and extremism ---streaming is apparently now in that category, or at least has been included on that side of the ledger as opposed to social media companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter, which have taken most of the disinformation heat.
OANN, owned by Herring Networks, said it was reviewing the letter.
Fox News responded with: “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.”
“The House Democrats’ attack on free speech and basic First Amendment rights should send chills down the spines of all Americans," was Newsmax's response in a statement. "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.”
Newsmax also reported on the letter Monday, saying the Democrats were waging an assault on the First Amendment.
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
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