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Fox News has won a First Amendment lawsuit against Washington state-based public interest group named Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE).
The organization was suing Fox under the Washington Consumer Protection Act for what it alleged was a “campaign of deception and omission regarding the danger of the international proliferation of the novel Coronavirus.”
In an eight-page order, King County Superior Court Judge Brian McDonald wrote: “WASHLITE’s professed goal in this lawsuit—to ensure that the public receives accurate information about the coronavirus and Covid-19—is laudable,” but adds that the way WASHLITE moved against FNC “runs afoul of the protections of the First Amendment.”
“This Court concludes that WASHLITE’s [Consumer Protection Act] claim against Fox is barred under the First Amendment. Fox’s motion to dismiss is GRANTED.”
After the judge granted FNC’s motion to dismiss, the network put out the following statement: “Using a false portrayal of Fox News Channel’s commentary, WASHLITE attempted to silence a national news organization to settle a partisan grievance. This was not only wrong, but contemptuous of the foundation of free speech and we are both pleased the court dismissed this frivolous case and grateful to the First Amendment community that rallied to our side.”
WASHLITE board member and spokesman Arthur West said a notice of appeal will be filed in state appellate court.
“We have a lot of respect for the judge,” he said. “It’s a well-reasoned opinion. It was thorough. We respectfully disagree.”
WASHLITE filed a lawsuit against Fox News on April 2, arguing that a cable network does not have the same First Amendment rights afforded to newspapers or even broadcast television stations, when that content is distributed over a third-party cable operator that doesn’t have a First Amendment shield.
Judge McDonald said WASHLITE’s assertions don’t hold up.
“Over 25 years ago, the United States Supreme Court held, ‘There can be no disagreement on an initial premise: Cable programmers and cable operators engage in and transmit speech, and they are entitled to the protection of the speech and press provisions of the First Amendment,” he said, citing the 1994 ruling in Turner Broadcasting Systems v. FCC.
The Supreme Court observed that, “[t]hrough ‘original programming or by exercising editorial discretion over which stations or programs to include in its repertoire,’ cable programmers and operators ‘see[k] to communicate messages on a wide variety of topics and in a wide variety of formats.’”
Here a copy of the eight-page order: