FCC chairman’s first response to Trump tweets about revoking NBC license: No go

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Tuesday that the commission doesn’t have the authority to revoke broadcast networks’ licenses over content.

Pai’s remarks were closely watched because they were related to the president of the United States’ tendency to suggest policy and governance changes by tweet.

“The FCC, under my leadership, will stand for the First Amendment,” Pai reportedly said in response to a question about his thoughts on President Trump’s recent tweets about the subject, which mentioned challenging and revoking NBC’s license because of what he calls “fake news.”

Get tech news in your inbox weekday mornings. Sign up for the free Good Morning Silicon Valley newsletter.

If you heard the First Amendment alarms going off last week — sounded by Republicans and Democrats alike — they were set off by President Trump tweeting his displeasure about an NBC report he didn’t like:

It wasn’t the first time Trump has railed against the news media, it was the umpteenth time. And he has suggested changing laws to retaliate against the news media more than once. For example, in March he brought up changing libel laws because “the failing New York Times” has “gotten [him] wrong for two solid years.”

Pai’s remarks, which he made at an event sponsored by the Mercatus Center of George Mason University in Virginia, were his first comments about the issue. Sunday, another FCC commissioner, Jessica Rosenworcel, had said on a TV news program that “history won’t be kind to silence” about possible threats to the First Amendment.

“I think it’s important for all the commissioners to make clear that they support the First Amendment, and that the agency will not revoke a broadcast license simply because the president is dissatisfied with the licensee’s coverage,” Rosenworcel, one of two Democrats on the five-member Federal Communications Commission, said, according to CNN.

Pai, a Republican who was named chairman by Trump, had also been under pressure from Democratic lawmakers on the issue. For example, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, on Monday sent Pai a letter, asking him to respond in writing by Nov. 1.

“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. “I ask for your unwavering commitment that you will ensure the First Amendment remains a cornerstone of our democracy and that you will not follow through on this direction from the President.”

Of course, it’s an open question whether Trump’s tweets are actually directives. For example, his ban on transgender people in the military, which he announced near the end of July on Twitter, came as a surprise to Pentagon leaders. The White House formalized the policy change order a month later.

But back to the “revoke the license” possibility: There is no single NBC license to revoke. The FCC grants licenses to local stations, which then broadcast the networks.

In addition, Pai reportedly said “fake news” isn’t under the FCC’s jurisdiction.


Photo: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai speaks during the 2017 National Association of Broadcasters Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center on April 25, 2017 in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)


Tags: , , , , , ,


Share this Post