This was originally posted to Facebook Jan 17, 2013 by me.
Sometimes a weird thought rambles through my head and leaves a more lasting impression. I had one the other day and it keeps coming back … this is my way of exorcising it so bear with me, please …
Should we allow the news to lie to us?
In the mid 1990’s in the US state of Florida there was a legal case that had the result of seeing a court state that television news programs do not have to tell the truth.
What the court actually said was that the FCC rules on this DO NOT rise to the level of a LAW since those rules were created by people that were not elected and laws are the province of elected officials only.
What it effectively has done is to tell the television industry in the USA that they can LIE ON THE NEWS and they will not be breaking any law.
Since then we’ve seen the flowering of a whole new range of flora in the television news garden: stinkweeds.
I’m referring to FOX News in large part but they aren’t the only ones – just the smelliest.
News anchors that harp on and on for years about things that have been legally settled such as whether or not their president was born in the USA. Networks that give succour and shelter to thinking and behaviours that a respectable journalist should shy away from and be ashamed to be seen in public with. Because it’s lies and supposition wrapped in a shiny package and passed off as ‘news’ and ‘truth’ to a viewing public that shovels it in with completely naive belief that they are getting the truth and can trust those they see on their TV.
In the 1960’s cable TV became a reality and Canadian cable companies began bringing in television from the USA for viewing in Canadian homes.
Television stations in Canada began to see a loss in viewers because of the competition. This was part of impetus that led the government to create the CRTC in 1968 to try and deal with this situation.
Over the years a lot has changed in the mix of technologies that give us media for consumption and television has lost a lot of viewers to recorded media, games and the online experience.
Home video recorders were the first real attack on TV and one effect of that battle was that the networks shifted from seeing their news divisions as a community service that the other parts of their businesses paid for to things that had to stand on their own and pay for themselves. This happened as the 70’s turned into the 80’s and we had the rise of infotainment with ABC Nightline packaging the embassy hostage taking in Iran over hundreds of days and the birth of a 24 hour all news satellite channel, CNN.
Since then the attacks on viewer counts has been relentless: Satellite TV, PC’s, game consoles, the World Wide Web, mobile web, social networking.
As a result of all of this Television has been searching for ways to stave off the losses of viewers with different strategies. And outrageous content has been one result. So called reality television with low, low costs becomes a competetor in the mix. That ‘Big News’ has to compete with … so you get people like Glen Beck on news channels. I know he’s not there anymore but he’s just a particularly loony example of the kind of lunacy that passes for content on some US television news channels. ‘Tabloid journalism’ on TV for your entertainment so your eyeballs can be sold to advertisers. And if it stretches the truth a bit … too bad – there’s no law saying they can’t do that.
And when their on air personalities start parroting loony paranoid fantasies as if they rise to the level of a serious, reasoned discussion, they love it because the ratings just go up.
Well I’m not in the USA. I live in Canada.
I’d like to know if we have a law in Canada that says you have to tell the truth on television NEWS in Canada or not.
IF we do not then why not?
If we do then I’d like to know why it is that cable companies can bring news programs into our homes that lie to the viewers.
Does the ‘must not lie’ law only pertain to over-the-air broadcasts and broadcasters?
If so, how can that be fair to both those broadcasters AND us consumers?
I realize that even if there is a law it would hard to enforce.
Ask Shaw, Bell and Rogers to stop carrying some major US networks? Like that will fly …
Make them put a warning label before or over top of the news broadcasts that states they may not be telling the truth? Like cigarette packaging showing the harm?
Gee I don’t know … like I said at the top, this thought got lodged in my head.
Ok, that was the post. In doing some research on this I found that a number of people / groups out there go to extra lengths to point out aspects of the case such as whether or not the jury in the original case thought this or that. Ignore the nitty gritty of the original case and just remember that there was the idea of telling lies in TV News journalism.
The meat of the matter, as regard this posting, is the judicial result later on when FOX and a couple of other media companies successfully argued that FCC rules about truth in reporting TV News are NOT LAWS. And by implication telling lies in newscasts is not breaking any actual law and therefore not illegal.
That’s in the U.S.A. where I do not live.
Is there a law here in my country, Canada, regarding this? – that’s my question.