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Explained: Why could some right-wing media channels in the US face legal action?

As it started to become clear that US President Donald Trump may not get a second term, he repeatedly alleged voter fraud and made claims that the elections were rigged.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: December 22, 2020 5:38:05 pm
Some of the right-wing channels in the last few days have aired statements that run counter to their earlier claims supporting voter fraud and questions about irregularities in voting software. (File)

Right-wing media channels including Fox News and Newsmax may face legal action from voting machine manufacturers, Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems, over vote fraud claims during the US Presidential elections.

What are the allegations?

As it started to become clear that US President Donald Trump may not get a second term, he repeatedly alleged voter fraud and made claims that the elections were rigged. Some pro-Trump news channels in the US have also questioned the legitimacy of the election voting machines and software and have supported Trump’s allegations that vote counting in certain states might have been manipulated in favour of president-elect Joe Biden.

Now, some of the right-wing channels in the last few days have aired statements that run counter to their earlier claims supporting voter fraud and questions about irregularities in voting software. Lou Dobbs of the Fox Business Network, for instance, ran a segment over the weekend where he questioned Eddie Perez of the Open Source Election Technology Institute about the legitimacy of the claims made against Smartmatic in what seems to be a backtrack on the channel’s previous statements.

What have the companies said?

The statements made by these channels have come days after Smartmatic sent legal notices and retraction demand letters to right-wing media channels including Fox News, Newsmax and One America News Network for publishing false and defamatory statements that implied that vote counts in certain swing states were tampered with. The other company that was named by these channels in their news programs was Dominion Voting Systems.

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In its letters, Smartmatic has said that the news organisations “could have easily discovered the falsity of the statements and implications made about Smartmatic by investigating their statements before publishing them to millions of viewers and readers. Smartmatic had nothing to do with the “controversies” that certain public and private figures have alleged regarding the 2020 US election. Multiple fact-checkers have consistently debunked these false statements with stunning consistency and regularity.” Smartmatic was involved in the 2020 elections as the manufacturing partner, system integrator, and software developer for Los Angeles County’s publicly owned voting system.

Dominion Voting Systems has called the election fraud allegations “bizarre” and has said that the Georgia conspiracy alleged by Sidney Powell, if possible, would require the collaboration of thousands of participants including state officeholders, bipartisan local election officials and thousands of volunteer Election Day poll watchers.

According to a report in The New York Times, the legal threats against the news channels that have the potential to cause financial and reputational harm will be taken seriously even by a “giant” like the multi-billion dollar Fox Corporation.

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