FCC Chairman Stands Up To Trump’s Attack On First Amendment

Donald Trump has threatened to revoke the licences of broadcasters which broadcast “fake news,” which often amounts to information which is unfavorable about Trump. While this received considerable condemnation, it was also widely seen as an empty threat. The president does not have the authority to revoke licenses, and the broadcast licenses are held by individual stations, not the networks. The FCC technically does have the authority to revoke licenses from stations. Fortunately FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed by Donald Trump,  has sided with the First Amendment over Trump. Politico reports:

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday defended the First Amendment and said his agency can’t revoke the license of a broadcaster based on its content, six days after President Donald Trump threatened to pull the licenses of TV networks he dislikes.

“I believe in the First Amendment,” Pai said at a telecom law event in Washington, without mentioning Trump by name. “The FCC under my leadership will stand for the First Amendment, and under the law the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on content of a particular newscast.”

Trump last week lashed out at an NBC News report that he had sought a tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, calling it “pure fiction” and suggesting broadcasters’ licenses should be challenged when they put out “fake news.”

…Asked if there’s a role for the FCC in deciding what is “fake news” and doing something about it, Pai answered, “Traditionally that has not been within the FCC’s jurisdiction,” adding, “I’m a lawyer by training, of course. I tend to hew as closely as I can to the terms of the Communications Act and of course to other applicable legal principles, and so that’s the standard that we adopt, at least, going forward.”

I am not sure why it took Pai almost a week to stand up for the First Amendment, but glad that he ultimately did so.

Claims of “fake news” have increasingly been used to advocate censorship with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton having called for some form of government action against “fake news.” Of course the First Amendment has no exception for “fake news” and it would be very dangerous for government to determine which news is fake. This is especially the case when both Trump and Clinton appear to consider information critical of them to be fake, regardless of the validity, along with other information spread which is more clearly untrue.

Claims of “fake news” and other hysteria over alleged Russian meddling in the election has also resulted in suppression of the expression of political opinion on Facebook as I discussed yesterday.

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