(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 endangerment, hate speech, bullying, 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 is a communications attorney at Womble Bond Dickinson and can be reached at (202) 857-4455 or [email protected]