Sinclair Broadcasting Group ran a silly promo-video trying to capitalize on the public's concern about getting accurate news.
And in the wake of that ad the network is facing a challenge to its First Amendment rights from powerful elected officials. Nick Gillespie of Reason writes:
How stupid is the panic over Sinclair Broadcast Group's hamfisted, "must-run" promotional video decrying "fake news"? This stupid: Yesterday 12 senators, including reported presidential aspirants Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), officially requested that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) "investigate Sinclair's news activities to determine if it conforms to the public interest."
If such an inquiry were to uncover "distorted news reports," the senators reckoned, that "could disqualify Sinclair from holding its existing licenses" and put the kibosh to its proposed purchase of Tribune Co. television stations.
I don't know much about Sinclair and would need to read more to form an opinion on the company.
But I do know this: Anyone who's ever worked as a reporter knows that so-called "distorted news reports" are generally stories that somebody powerful doesn't like. Often, as it happens, the powerful person doesn't like such stories precisely because they are accurate rather than distorted.
"Multiple news outlets report that Sinclair has been forcing local news anchors to read Sinclair-mandated scripts warning of the dangers of 'one-sided news stories plaguing our country,' over the protests from local news teams," states the letter, authored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).
"As strong defenders of the First Amendment guarantees of free speech and freedom of the press, we are alarmed by such practices….Must-run dictates from Sinclair harm the freedom of the press guaranteed in the First Amendment by turning local journalists into mouthpieces for a corporate and political agenda."
The company seems to be asking the local anchors to do nothing more insidious than participate in a promotion of the company for which they work. The promotion was silly and ill-scripted but not nefarious. Look at any local news affiliate, and you'll see anchors coming on to tell you what's great about their news show.
What the Cantwell letter points to is a desire to put the kibosh on news outlets that provide an alternative to the liberal framing of stories on the legacy networks. Along these lines, Politico recently reported that President Trump won because there are "news deserts" in which the legacy media is not dominant. IW's Tammy Bruce had an excellent commentary on this.
In his reply to the Cantwell letter, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai stood up for the First Amendment:
"I have repeatedly made clear that the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast. I understand that you disliked or disagreed with the content of particular broadcasts, but I can hardly think of an action more chilling of free speech than the federal government investigating a broadcast station because of disagreement with its news coverage or promotion of that coverage."
And that is really what this is really all about: using the government to shut down the press and freedom of speech. We don't need that from the right or the left.