Every year, the FCC receives a wide variety of comments and complaints from consumers about broadcast journalism (i.e., television and radio.) Some complaints are about whether networks, stations, news reporters and/or commentators give inaccurate or one-sided news presentations, fail to cover certain events or to cover them inadequately, or overemphasize or dramatize certain aspects of events. Other complaints concern reporting illnesses, accidents or deaths of individuals before the families have been informed, or the conduct of journalists in the gathering and reporting of news. The FCC’s authority to respond to these complaints is narrow in scope and is prohibited by law from engaging in censorship or infringing on First Amendment rights of the press.
What Can The FCC Do?
The Communications Act and the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibit any action by the FCC that would censor or interfere with free speech in broadcasting. For example, the FCC cannot interfere with a broadcaster’s selection and presentation of material for the news and/or its commentary. The FCC does, however, regulate content in some narrow areas. For example, federal law prohibits or limits the broadcast of obscene, indecent or profane language. But the FCC must be guided by decisions of the courts in determining whether specific material may be prohibited under this law. Similarly, the FCC may penalize licensees for knowingly broadcasting false information.
What Responsibilities Do Broadcasters Have?
As public trustees, broadcasters may not intentionally distort the news. Broadcasters are responsible for deciding what their stations present to the public, and the FCC has stated publicly that “rigging or slanting the news is a most heinous act against the public interest.” The FCC may act to protect the public interest when it has received documented evidence of such rigging or slanting. This kind of evidence could include testimony, in writing or otherwise, from “insiders” or persons who have direct personal knowledge of an intentional falsification of the news. Of particular concern would be evidence about orders from station management to falsify the news. Without such documented evidence, the FCC generally cannot intervene.
What If I Have Comments Or Concerns About A Specific News Broadcast Or Commentary?
All concerns or comments about a specific news broadcast or commentary should be directed to the local station and network involved, so that the people responsible for making the programming decisions can become better informed about audience opinion.
Complaints regarding news distortion, rigging or slanting can also be filed free-of-charge with the FCC. Complaints alleging news distortion, rigging or slanting must contain documented evidence in support of the allegations. It is not sufficient for a complaint to allege only that a broadcast station made a mistake in reporting a news event. The complaint must include documented evidence showing deliberate misrepresentation.
How to File a Complaint with the FCC
You must include your name, address, contact information and as much detail about your complaint as possible. To file a complaint, please visit www.fcc.gov/complaints. You can also file your complaint with the FCC’s Consumer Center by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) for TTY; or writing to:
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20554