To shut down TV propaganda, re-establish FCC licensing requirement

The great paradox of American democracy is that, while Congress has the power to regulate the content television stations broadcast, at present it does not prohibit the broadcast of massive lies and distortions of the truth, or impose any fairness obligation on TV channels such as those currently spewing Trump propaganda.

This is a giant paradox in any democracy, and a huge failure of Congress to use its legislative powers.

There is an interesting history of how the federal government relinquished control of the airwaves, and even auctioned off frequencies used for such TV broadcast transmissions. These decisions, in retrospect, had catastrophic consequences.

But that is not the point now, except to highlight the forces that have been opposed to maintaining the federal regulation of television broadcasting that may be necessary to guarantee fact-based reporting and political debate.

Why should a democracy like ours, or any democracy, tolerate authoritarian-style political propaganda such as that used by Vladimir Putin, Adolf Hitler, or Joseph Stalin?

Well, that’s the way things are, many may think.

Or, you can’t regulate television broadcasting without violating the First Amendment.

Stop and think about that for a minute. The First Amendment does not protect a non-existent right to spew Nazi propaganda, or to foment violence and insurrection.

The Democrats should make it their first order of business to prepare such legislation. It would be a nice warning shot across the bow to stations and networks spewing such lies and propaganda today if the House were to pass such a bill tomorrow.

If the Democrats win the Presidency and the Senate, as well as the House, Democrats should lose no time in passing such legislation early in 2021.

It is time to bring back federal government regulation of Soviet- and Nazi-style propaganda.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

2 Comments on "To shut down TV propaganda, re-establish FCC licensing requirement"

  1. Let’s start with big, monstrous lies. The courts will be the ultimate arbitrators. It would help to establish civil causes of action.

  2. MICHAEL MAULDIN | October 12, 2020 at 11:00 am | Reply

    I agree with the concept of curbing propaganda…the challenge is who is to decide what is or is not propaganda. Yes propaganda can be all lies or a mixture of lies and truths or half-thruths. But propaganda can also be fabricated with truthful comments as in the last ad for Trump where Fauci is quoted as supporting Trump….Fauci’s words were of course edited and taken out of context…which is often how negative ads are produced now.

    Who will be the arbiter of truth? Whomever is in power? We have slipped so far down this slippery slope there may be no way back.

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