Rants & Radicals. The Dividing Line of Irresponsible Content

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(By John Garziglia)Alex Jones, a self-described libertarian and paleoconservative and publisher of the infowars.com website, is broadcast on 114 radio stations. Recently, his content was removed by YouTube, Facebook and Apple. Is there a case to be made that radio stations should likewise question his broadcast content?

This article will not delve into a discussion of the various theories and conspiracies that make up a portion of Alex Jones’ content. That is for others. Rather, the question for FCC licensees is that, when three major social platform aggregators remove content, should radio stations take notice and likewise assess the prudence of carrying the same content?

As private companies, YouTube, Facebook, and Apple, have every right to remove or refuse content consistent with their own policies. By doing so, however, each may be entering into a difficult line-drawing exercise. While the removal of Alex Jones content may be defended on a truth and veracity basis, the question becomes where the line is drawn.

The social media giants have certain established policies for their content. Some of the claimed policy violations resulting in their various take-downs of Alex Jones’ content include policies against child endangermenthate speechbullying, harassment, glorifying violence, and using dehumanising language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants.

It is worth noting that there are significant laws against child endangerment, bullying and harassment. When such conduct occurs either on social media or the old-fashioned way using mail or personally-delivered threats, it is hoped that law enforcement authorities will quickly step in. Indeed, that is the brightest line – when content is illegal or is fostering illegality, the content should not be broadcast.

Which brings us to Alex Jones and similar radio broadcasts – should they stay or should they go? Certainly, no radio station licensee wants to broadcast content that endangers children, or is bullying or harassing.

Radio station licensees may have a legal and regulatory exposure far beyond that of social media platforms for scurrilous content. Radio stations may be exposed to a full panoply of legal actions, as well as a variety of other causes of action, for harmful content. Both social media and radio stations could find themselves in the cross-hairs of a lawsuit if questionable content incited violence or otherwise provoked illegality.

A radio station with an FCC license to serve the public interest has an obligation to itself and to its listeners to offer information and viewpoints that stand up to a test of integrity that each licensee itself initially establishes. Therefore, radio stations must be especially sensitive to changing social mores as to what constitutes beyond-the-bounds programming.

The broadcast content offered by radio personalities seeking self-aggrandizement and notoriety for cutting-edge programming, conspiracy theories, and falsehoods, can be theater-of-the-mind, or can be a wasteland. The challenge for each radio station licensee is determining when provocative radio programming goes over the line of marginally-acceptable content to become intolerable and dangerous.

Finding that amorphous veracity line which should not be crossed is neither easy nor obvious. It is the responsibility of every radio station licensee and manager to determine what content should be refused. Social media banning Alex Jones should engender an immediate assessment by each of his affiliates to determine whether his content has also crossed your own policy line of what should be, or should not be, broadcast on your radio station.

John Garziglia - RadioJohn Garziglia is a communications attorney at Womble Bond Dickinson and can be reached at (202) 857-4455 or [email protected]   

11 COMMENTS

  1. Yet,..no one says anything about the two-minutes of drivel,..laced with opinion, half-truths, and innuendo that passes for journalism at the top of every hour.

  2. Throughout my entire career, my employers retained the absolute right to edit my comments.
    I submit that “the rules” were within the range of a common sense approach and, over time, were ingrained and became a natural attribute of the greatest majority of my fellow performers.
    Even when the “underground” FM guys started flapping their lips, there was still an only slightly expanded demarcation zone.
    Jones, on the other hand, and if his spewed drivel is still accepted by some owners, needs to have an ” extremely toxic” label attached and announced regularly throughout the proceedings.
    There is a difference between exercising “free” speech and stampeding the locals with outright, unmistakeable distortions of facts and truth.
    Uninformed, paranoid conspiracy theorists are of no help when it comes to more legitimate threats to the culture and to the society.
    Addressing those issues requires the attention of informed, educated, experienced and reasonable men and women.

  3. Jones is not putting forth opinions nor facts, he is promoting outright falsehoods. His content is as bad or worse than screaming “FIRE” inside a crowded room. That type of speech is not protected, neither should Jones fairy tales be protected.

  4. I want everyone to remember this quote. It might have been a little before your time; however, it is just as meaningful today as to when it was written & stated back in 1944. Don’t just blow by it..READ IT!

    MARTIN NIEMÖLLER: “FIRST THEY CAME FOR THE SOCIALISTS…”

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    How to cite this article
    Quotation from Martin Niemöller on display in the Permanent Exhibition of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Niemöller was a Lutheran minister and early Nazi supporter who was later imprisoned for opposing Hitler’s regime.
    Quotation from Martin Niemöller on display in the Permanent Exhibition of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Niemöller was a Lutheran minister and early Nazi supporter who was later imprisoned for opposing Hitler’s regime.
    — US Holocaust Memorial Museum

    Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

    Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

      • Not true, Dave… misinformation was used / echoed by the media, on and by the general public, just as it is being used today, to justify each and every civil rights abuse that occurred. The sad part is, it cannot happen without the willingness of the the people. We do not have a 1st amendment problem. We have a TV to reality problem. Reality TV wasn’t enough… let’s use REAL reality… but the real world is always boring and monotonous when you begin seeing the entirety of each issue. That’s why the Today Show almost went off the air in the early 90’s… no one was watching… nobody cared… then the rules changed…and television changed…and politics changed…and campaign finance rules changed…and the internet was born. Ah the internet, break out your virtual pitchforks and torches everybody! Time for a virtual mob! …Skip forward to now… The only government sponsored television outlet was recently given the opportunity to sell ad space, making their ratings a driving force in their future success and survival. SO, tell ’em what they want to hear PBS, (never mind the facts, separate points of view or consensus of the Republic) feel comfortable that your stand for a direct democracy… ( thank you Seth MacFarlane for that groundbreaking episode of “The Orville”**mustwatchalert**, you honor your Vulcan predecessor) …will lead to the solutions this nation needs… after all, it worked so well before…

  5. All of this is just cover for what is really going on, which is the political take down of the opponents of the NWO agenda by those who seek to gain advantage in the upcoming election by squelching their right to free speech. These corporations have made themselves public utilities, and in doing so must honor everyone’s free speech except in violations of law. Who made these corporations judge and jury over the free speech liberties afforded to US citizens? If there are violations of law then bring your case in court. Where are the checks and balances? The conspiracy of these corporations is evident by their coordinated implementation of their banning of this web site. They are united is seeking to stop all speech against this NWO agenda. If they can block Info Wars then they can block all dissenting speech that affects their political agenda. The greatest hate speech was the words spoken to block the free speech of the political opposition just before an upcoming election. Shame on them.

    • Read the Constitution. The only thing it says is “Congress shall make no law.” None of the social media sites are owned by the government, or exempt from lawsuits for what appears on their sites. Companies, including this web site, have terms of service, where they give very clear rules about what can and can’t be said. For example I can’t threaten you in my reply to your comment. That’s outside the terms of service. These rules are there to help prevent these companies from being sued. For the same reason, a lot of advertisers have clauses in their sales contracts that their ads can’t be adjacent to controversial material. There is a way to speak without attracting this kind of attention, but that’s not what these particular people have chosen to do. Or you can build and host your own site. Those are options available to anyone.

  6. Let me guess…the author of this piece is a DC-based Democrat, right? Jones is not my cup of tea, but he cleverly immunized himself against the usual mode of left wing attack — by self-sponsoring his show, so they can’t go after his advertisers. Instead, they go after his content. How about we stop with the censorship, and let the marketplace decide if Jones is worthy of airtime?

  7. This fraud is an admitted “performance artist” just like his buddy the Reality Show Con Artist. It is designed for “poorly edcuated” people in Red States where I am sure most of his affiliates are. In fact, the grifter in chief would be much happier bilking the rubes with his own TV Network and never wanted the job he has now.

    We allow people to be as stupid as they are in this country. Unfortunately, when confronted with something that should make them change their mind, they double down on dumb. Again – that’s America.

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