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Satellite Censorship?

Newsmax claims DirecTV dropped the channel to silence political speech. Is there more to the story? A Dispatch Explainer.

Signage for the Newsmax on display at the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting on May 28, 2022. (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

Satellite television provider DirecTV dropped conservative news network Newsmax at midnight Wednesday, sparking complaints of cancel culture and censorship. Is it?

Newsmax cries censorship.

Newsmax has accused the satellite provider of deplatforming the channel for political reasons, now roughly a year after DirecTV dropped One America News Network (OAN)—another right-leaning news channel that grew in prominence during Donald Trump’s presidency. 

Newsmax has long trafficked in 2020 election denialism. In 2021, Dominion Voting Systems filed defamation lawsuits against both Newsmax and OAN, accusing both of damaging the electronic voting machine’s reputation by claiming it helped rig the 2020 presidential election in President Joe Biden’s favor.

“This is a blatant act of political discrimination and censorship against Newsmax,” the company’s CEO Christopher Ruddy wrote in a statement on its website. “The shutdown will block more than 13 million customers of the satellite service, DirecTV Stream, and U-Verse from seeing the channel.” 

Capitol Hill lawmakers have even joined the fray. GOP Rep. Wesley Hunt joined some of his House Republican colleagues—including House Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer—in penning a letter to the chief executive officers of DirecTV, AT&T and TPG Capital calling the move an “un-democratic assault on free speech” and accusing the companies of denying the channel cable fees on a “fair and equitable basis.” DirecTV is jointly owned by AT&T and TPG Capital.

DirecTV: ‘economics, not ideology.’

DirecTV, meanwhile, says the rate changes demanded by the network would have made the channel too expensive to justify keeping. A DirecTV spokesman emphasized that customers will still be able to watch Newsmax online for free through several streaming services. 

“On multiple occasions, we made it clear to Newsmax that we wanted to continue to offer the network, but ultimately Newsmax’s demands for rate increases would have led to significantly higher costs that we would have to pass on to our broad customer base,” a DirecTV spokesperson told The Dispatch. 

DirectTV General Counsel and Chief External Relations Officer Michael Hartman emphasized in a letter to Hunt and other House Republicans on January 23 that the satellite carrier has been negotiating with Newsmax for months. 

“According to Nielsen, nationwide Newsmax’s average household audience is only 101,000 households, representing less than 0.1% of total TV households,” he continued. “That is 92% lower than Fox News. If Newsmax ceases to authorize our carriage of their channel, our customers will still have access to their clearly preferred conservative news channel, Fox News, which has more viewers than MSNBC, CNN and Newsmax combined.”

A day after dropping Newsmax, the satellite service announced it would add a new conservative channel, The First, that launched on Paramount’s Pluto TV in 2019. When it launches on DirecTV, the First will continue to feature conservative talk show hosts Bill O’Reilly and Liz Wheeler, among other primetime TV personalities.

“Economics, not ideology, drive our decision making,” Hartman said in his letter to lawmakers.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.