By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said on Monday it was rejecting a petition that sought an investigation into broadcasters that aired statements U.S. President Donald Trump made in news conferences about the coronavirus pandemic.
Free Press, a media advocacy group, last month filed an emergency petition with the FCC to investigate the broadcast of what it said were false statements about the health crisis by Trump.
In a statement on Monday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said "the federal government will not - and never should - investigate broadcasters for their editorial judgments ... We leave it to broadcasters to determine for themselves how to cover this national emergency, including live events involving our nation's leaders."
The petition suggested Trump during a March 19 news briefing had mischaracterized the efficacy of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a possible remedy for the sometimes deadly respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. It cited a 1992 FCC rule barring the broadcasting of hoaxes.
The White House declined to comment.
The FCC order, signed by its general counsel and media bureau chief, said the Free Press petition sought an expansion of the broadcast hoax rule in "order to enable government-led flyspecking of broadcasters' editorial judgments" on airing statements by Trump and other government officials.
"A broadcaster's decision to broadcast and comment on statements made by the president, relating to one of the most severe public health crises in a century, does not amount to airing an intentional or knowing falsehood," the FCC said. "It is implausible, if not absurd, to suggest that broadcasters knowingly deceived the public by airing these press conferences or other statements by the President about COVID-19."
The FCC said Trump's optimism about the potential treatment "has been shared by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Food and Drug Administration, and a number of medical professionals."
Free Press did not immediately comment.
The FCC added it will "leave to the press its time-honored and constitutionally protected role in testing the claims made by our political leaders."
On Monday, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro acknowledged members of the task force dealing with the coronavirus crisis clashed over the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine.
Navarro had a heated exchange on Saturday with Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Axios reported. Fauci and other top health advisers have argued there is not enough data from limited studies that have been done to prove the drug is effective against COVID-19.
(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Paul Simao and Matthew Lewis)