FCC chairman rejects Trump suggestion on broadcast licenses

President Trump tweeted last week that licenses for TV networks airing what he calls "fake" news "must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked".

Trump and his supporters have repeatedly used the term "fake news" to cast doubt on media reports critical of his administration, often without providing any evidence to support their case that the reports were untrue.

"I believe in the First Amendment", Pai said at an event organized by George Mason University's Mercatus Center.

"This is an affront to the First Amendment, freedom of the press, and founding principles of the communications act", Blumenthal said in his letter to the commission. "Under the law, the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast".

"Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked", Trump said.

In his brief comments, Pai mentioned neither Trump nor NBC.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) later remarked that Pai's statement was "better than nothing", but "merely a reiteration of the FCC's authorities under the law".

But Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly has now said that "politics" should not interfere with FCC decision-making and that the agency should remain independent. Pai, in his low-key, matter-of-fact manner, is commendably willing to say so, apparently as many times as it takes.

The office of Mignon Clyburn, the other of the two Democratic commissioners, declined to officially comment when asked if NBC's license could be repealed due to an apparent lack (at least originally) of news coverage surrounding sexual harassment allegations levied against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. It issues licenses to owners of television stations, which must be periodically renewed. It regularly reviews the licenses, typically examining a station's commitment to programming and activities in the public interest. The FCC grants licenses to local stations, which then broadcast the networks.

The FCC doesn't license networks.

FCC Democrats rebuked Trump within hours, saying that challenging licenses because the president dislikes news coverage would violate the First Amendment.

"The President's tweets were alarming in both his disregard of the FCC's independence and flagrant disrespect for the freedom of the press", Blumenthal wrote.

  • Rogelio Becker