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FCC Chairman Rebuffs Trump’s Call to Punish TV Stations

Updated on
  • Ajit Pai makes first public remarks since presidential threat
  • Trump said TV licenses should be challenged over news reports

The head of the Federal Communications Commission suggested President Donald Trump shouldn’t expect any help from him in punishing television stations for news reports the White House doesn’t like.

“I believe in the First Amendment,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee, said at an event in Washington. “The FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast.”

Trump on Oct. 11 asked whether FCC licenses should be taken from NBC after the network published a story saying he’d discussed an increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal in a meeting with military and security officials.

The president later told his 40.6 million Twitter followers that, “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!”

The FCC doesn’t license networks. It issues licenses to owners of television stations, which must be periodically renewed. NBCUniversal, the parent company of the network, is owned by Comcast Corp., which owns 10 NBC stations, including in New York and Los Angeles. The television network also broadcasts through more than 200 stations owned by independent businesses.

Pai has faced calls from Democrats to disavow the president’s remarks, and on Tuesday California Representative Anna Eshoo in a tweet said the chairman had “finally” addressed Trump’s “indefensible remarks.”

Pai, a Republican FCC member since 2012 who was elevated to chairman by Trump in January, said last month in Washington that freedom of speech “should unite Americans across the ideological spectrum.”

Read more: FCC Chief, ‘Defender of 1st Amendment,’ Silent on Trump-NBC

Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic FCC commissioner, said on CNN Sunday that the FCC must support the First Amendment and can’t dictate what content should be on the airwaves.

“History won’t be kind to silence,” she said. “It’s important for all the commissioners to make clear that they support the First Amendment, and that agency will not revoke a broadcast license simply because the president is dissatisfied with the licensee’s coverage.”

Tom Wheeler, who led the FCC under Democratic President Barack Obama, told CNN that Pai was “making himself complicit in the coercion that the president was engaging in.”

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