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FCC dismisses complaint over election night coverage

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting         Apr 13, 2001    

FCC dismisses complaint over election night coverage

  • A law firm’s request that the FCC investigate major news organizations’ reporting during election night last year was dismissed by the agency which said the incorrect projections were not sufficient to warrant an investigation.

The Federal Communications Commission on April 3 dismissed a request to investigate alleged “news distortion” by six news organizations on election night last year, finding there was not enough evidence to warrant an investigation.

“The mere fact that the networks incorrectly projected that Al Gore would receive Florida’s electoral votes is not a sufficient basis to initiate such an investigation,” wrote David H. Solomon, chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau.

The Washington, D.C., law firm Smithwick & Belendiuk filed a complaint with the FCC just weeks after the election in November urging the commission to formally investigate whether the networks knowingly or recklessly made erroneous calls. The complaint asked for the results of the investigation to be presented to an administrative law judge. The firm said that it represents communications companies before the FCC, but filed the complaint on its own behalf.

On Nov. 7, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC and The Associated Press all announced Vice President Al Gore had won Florida, only to recant the call a few hours later. The networks, but not The Associated Press, then declared Gov. George W. Bush the new president, only to again retreat from the declaration when it was apparent the race was too close to call.

Arthur Belendiuk, a partner of the firm, called the agency’s decision not to investigate the allegation puzzling.

“I think this was the kind of thing the FCC was tailor-made to look into,” Belendiuk said. “One of the missions of the FCC is to have a diversity of voices. One way you accomplish this is to make sure you are getting truly different sources of information and in this case you had many different voices but only one source of information.”

Belendiuk said his firm filed the complaint because they were specifically concerned about what happened this time, whereas he said the congressional hearing held in February on the subject centered around what the networks would do in the future.

“I’m not sure you want to leave the networks unregulated in this area,” he said. “Are they free to do the same thing again? Do you think they should be? These are rhetorical questions every voter has to ask.”

(In the Matter of Complaint and Request for Section 403 Investigation) EH

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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