Banning US News Outlets from Lying Might Just Save the World


Photo credit: Umair Mohsin via Flickr/CC BY

Yesterday, in a tirade spurred by the strange, continued praise of News Corps snake-oily 'carbon neutral' efforts, I argued that Fox News has done more than any other media outlet in the world to prevent progress towards addressing climate change. And it does so, frankly, by lying. Its editorial board has a prerogative to sew doubt about climate change, and consistently and willfully misrepresents the strong body of science that confirms human activity is warming the planet. So what if Fox News was banned from lying? What if there was a federal law that prevented News Corp from spreading false information about climate change? Sounds far-fetched, right? Well, Canada's got one. The Ottawa law bans news agencies from airing anything they know to be untrue -- and when some politicians sought to revoke it, the US news media took notice. Primarily, because we have no such ban, and many might assume it somehow restricts the freedom of press. This isn't the case, however.

Dave Saldana of Yes Magazine explains:

the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission [like the FCC in the US] last month scrapped a proposal to revoke or relax a rule on "prohibited programming content" that includes "broadcasting false or misleading news." The CRTC withdrew the plan when a legislative committee determined that the rule does not run afoul of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which like the U.S. Constitution, guarantees press freedoms.

The Canadian media speculated that the withdrawal may have been provoked in no small part by the large sector of the public that voiced its displeasure at the idea of Sun TV coarsening the public discourse and deliberately muddying the political waters, akin to what they see in American media.

What's more, is that the rule has never been invoked a single time. Which means that Canadian news agencies have either viewed such a stipulation as common sense and adequately incorporated the principle into operating procedure, or no lie big enough to warrant invoking the rule has stoked the public's ire. Either way, there's probably nothing as egregiously stocked with misinformation in Canada as Fox is here (Canadian readers, please do let me know if I'm wrong).

So why don't we ban lying on TV here, and get on with better informing the public about things like climate change? Well, for one thing, our courts have decided time and again that as far as the Constitution is concerned, there's no legal framework for holding TV liars accountable. And as Saldana points out, unlike doctors and lawyers, journalists don't need to obtain any sort of license to work -- and therefore lying can only impact their reputations, not their criminal records.

Is there a way to change this? Doesn't it seem like a pretty basic founding principle of a good society -- that those entrusted to provide it with information not deliberately mislead it? You'd think so. And given that the global community can't negotiate a climate treaty until the US has binding emissions reduction targets passed by Congress -- which won't happen until the American people believe in climate change -- maybe it's time to find a legally-binding way to make the likes of Fox News tell the truth about global warming.

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How Fox News Debunks Global Warming

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