Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai still hasn’t publicly responded to President Trump’s call for NBC and other networks to have their FCC licenses challenged, and Democratic lawmakers are stepping up the pressure.
Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) and Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) today called for a Congressional hearing in which Pai and the other FCC commissioners “can publicly disavow President Donald Trump’s repeated threats to revoke NBC’s broadcaster license due to its reporting.”
Trump made the threats on Twitter yesterday. Members of Congress and members of the media (including Ars) have been contacting the FCC since yesterday morning to get a response from Pai, but the chair has remained silent on the matter.
Pallone and Doyle issued this statement:
Over the past few days, the President has repeatedly attacked news outlets and their FCC licenses. This threat alone may already be chilling free speech across the country. That is why we and others have called on the FCC chairman to immediately condemn this intimidation and promise to the American public that he will not follow through on the directions he has received from the president. Despite our calls, the chairman has refused to say if he agrees with the president. We therefore ask for a hearing as soon as possible with all five FCC commissioners so that they can publicly and under oath commit that they will not threaten broadcasters or their licenses because of the content of their reporting.
FCC Democrats responded to Trump
Both Democratic members of the FCC, Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, said they would not help Trump attack NBC by targeting its licenses. “Revoking a broadcast license on such grounds will only happen if we fail to abide by the First Amendment,” Clyburn said.
Republican members of the commission have not issued any statements on the topic yesterday or today.
Last month, Pai dismissed the idea of revoking FCC licenses in a speech:
On Twitter, for example, people regularly demand that the FCC yank licenses from cable news channels like Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN because they disagree with the opinions expressed on those networks. Setting aside the fact that the FCC doesn’t license cable channels, these demands are fundamentally at odds with our legal and cultural traditions.
But while Pai was previously willing to criticize unnamed people on Twitter for demanding license revocations, Democratic lawmakers want him to stand up to the president. Revoking licenses is unlikely from a procedural perspective, but the lawmakers said that the president’s threats themselves are harmful to free speech.
“Every day that goes by without comment from the FCC Chairman is a continued threat to the First Amendment,” Pallone and Doyle said.
Trump angry about NBC news story
Trump’s first tweet on the topic yesterday said, “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”
Hours later, Trump intensified his call for network licenses to be challenged and possibly revoked. “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!” Trump tweeted.
Trump did not walk back his threats today. “The Fake News Is going all out in order to demean and denigrate! Such hatred!” he tweeted.
The FCC doesn’t issue broadcast licenses to networks, but it does issue licenses to individual stations. The Comcast-owned NBC owns and operates numerous stations in major markets, but NBC content also airs on many affiliate stations that are not owned by NBC.
We contacted Pai’s office again after Pallone and Doyle issued their statement, and we will update this story if Pai offers a response.