The legal battle in the United States of America between the Dominion Voting Company and Fox News has been delayed by an additional day amidst talks that the two parties are in settlement discussions. A settlement which I would argue in this case should absolutely not be permitted. I have previously argued that legal settlements should not be allowed, however in this case there is I think, a greater question at hand: the preservation of the public narrative. Often in cases of Out of Court Settlements, neither party admits fault, and an amount of money may be paid by one party to the other. In such situations, the question of which party was in the right can remain unsanswered – at least publicly, and certainly legally.
This case, a defamation suit being brough by Dominion Voting Systmes concerns (what Dominion says was) the deliberate and knowing broadcasting of inaccurate information which has damaged its reputation on the world stage. In short, Fox supported claims by the outgoing President Donald Trump over several months that the 2020 Presidential election in the United States was stolen – in part because of faulty or malicious software being used by the Dominion voting machines. This claim has been maintained despite a Federal Investigation finding no evidence of such fraud, and was regularly supported and broadcast by the anchors and political and societal commentators at Fow News.
As has been made widely public, the broadcasting of the false claims of a stolen election (including refernce to the Dominion systems) continued even when Fox, its anchors and commentators knew (and remarked privately) that the claim had no grounds. Comments from the Fox employees has been included in the legal filings for defamation and have not been contested by Fox.
Irrespective of the damage suffered by the Dominion Voting Systems company, I believe that there is a moral question here concerning whether or not a broadcast network should be allowed to communicate messages and information that it knows to be untruthful. This question seems to me to be at the very core of democracy, and has an impact across all political systems – whether inside or outside of the United States of America. This was experienced first hand by the British public during the Brexit referendum debate, throughout which both politicans and commentators were permitted to make wildly inaccurate and unsubstantiated statements on national television without much in the way of challenge from the platform presenters. This behaviour has since extended into British politics itself where we find members of the government lying to the parliament and not being held to account.
This can be an issue no matter who it is, however when the actor engaging in the passing of misinformation is a politician or a ‘news’ outlet, it is entirely likely that the viewer/ listener will consider that what is being said is factually accurate – especially when such statements are not challenged.
It would seem to me therefore, that if in the Fox/ Dominion case there is a settlement, and one without any legal blame being assigned; there will be no socially agreed position of whether or not the information given by Fox News to its audience was correct. The result of this, is that those who listened to Fox News and who believed what they were told, will be free (nay encouraged) to go on believing this story, rather than being able to understand that they were lied to by what they considered to be a trusted source. It is of course possible that in the event that a trial goes ahead and a legal judgement is pronouced, the Fox viewers will choose not to believe it anyway, yet it would nevertheless represent an empiral measure of the situation, and as such could not be contested by mere denial and rhetoric. The absence of such a decision however will ensure that the question of correct behaviour remains permanently in abeyance.
This is precisely the reason for which a trial is necessary at this point. A settlement would represent a travesty of justice and a nail in the coffin for whatever pretense is being made for the United States of America being a democracy. A settlement will effectively prove to be yet another rubber-stamp on the process that allows money to trump justice. Yet again, a rich person or institution can avoid public scrutiny and judgement merely because they are rich enough to avoid the consequences of their actions.
As a further consequence, this will perpetuate (or at best do nothing alleviate) the division in public and poltiical opinion within the United States of Amercia, and will allow Fox (and others) to continue telling viewers whatever narrative they are in favour of that day whilst maintaining a public face of being ‘Fair and Balanced’.
Cases in which the public have been lied to must be prosecuted fully and completely, at all times. From my perspective this is crucial to the continuation of any political system aspiring to democracy. Surely any system that tolerates the dissemination of blatantly false information under the guise of ‘news’ is party to the distribution of propoganda which is intended only to deceive. Without a judgement, the general public have no way of being sure that any ot the information that they are provided has any basis in fact. Without any basis in fact, the only decisions that can be made are emotive by their very nature. The result is a political environment which reacts emotionally and takes no consideration of the reality in which we live. In such an environment there is no purpose for debate, you may as well pick a colour and just follow it blindly…
Oh hang on… shit, it is already too late!!