The FCC occasionally receives complaints regarding allegedly false information aired on TV or radio. The FCC reviews all complaints for possible violation of its rules, which are narrow in scope.
Broadcasting false information that causes substantial 'public harm'
The FCC prohibits broadcasting false information about a crime or a catastrophe if the broadcaster knows the information is false and will cause substantial "public harm" if aired.
FCC rules specifically say that the "public harm must begin immediately, and cause direct and actual damage to property or to the health or safety of the general public, or diversion of law enforcement or other public health and safety authorities from their duties."
Broadcasters may air disclaimers that clearly characterize programming as fiction to avoid violating FCC rules about public harm.
Broadcasting false content during news programming
The FCC is prohibited by law from engaging in censorship or infringing on First Amendment rights of the press. It is, however, illegal for broadcasters to intentionally distort the news, and the FCC may act on complaints if there is documented evidence of such behavior from persons with direct personal knowledge. For more information, please see our consumer guide, Complaints About Broadcast Journalism.