'I Believe in the First Amendment,' Says FCC Chair, Rejecting Trump's Censorious Tweets

Ajit Pai notes that his agency has no authority to consider journalistic content in making license decisions.


Mercatus Center

Today FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who pre-emptively repudiated Donald Trump's suggestion that TV stations should lose their broadcast licenses if their news reports offend him, reiterated his commitment to freedom of speech and emphasized that his agency has no authority to take journalistic content into account when making such decisions. Asked directly about the president's censorious tweets during a forum on telecommunications reform at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, Pai replied:

I believe in the First Amendment. 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 the content of a particular newscast.

Pai added that, notwithstanding Trump's argument that purveyors of "fake news" should be investigated by the government, such a role "has not been within the FCC's jurisdiction." He also criticized the so-called Fairness Doctrine, under which the FCC used to require that broadcast stations present contrasting views on controversial subjects. "It was an affront to the First Amendment to have the government micromanaging how much time a particular broadcast outlet decided to devote to a particular topic," he said.

Trump has raised the possibility of reviving the Fairness Doctrine, which the FCC abandoned in 1987. "Late Night host are dealing with the Democrats for their very 'unfunny' & repetitive material, always anti-Trump!" he tweeted on October 7. "Should we get Equal Time?" Four minutes later, he added, "More and more people are suggesting that Republicans (and me) should be given Equal Time on T.V. when you look at the one-sided coverage?" Trump used a question mark instead of a period, and he said "Equal Time" instead of "Fairness Doctrine," invoking a different rule that applies to competing candidates for public office. But you get the idea: If people on TV are saying things that make Trump look bad, the stations on which they appear should be forced to air rebuttals.

That proposal, like Trump's assertion that "licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked" in response to "partisan, distorted and fake" news coverage, is obviously anathema to the First Amendment. Pai, in his low-key, matter-of-fact manner, is commendably willing to say so, apparently as many times as it takes.

Addendum: On Sunday, another member of the FCC, Jessica Rosenworcel, beat Pai to the punch in responding to Trump's tweets about broadcast licenses. "History won't be kind to silence," the Democratic appointee said on CNN, "and 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."

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  1. FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast.

    I’ll bet they do.

    1. At they very least they can and do fine them. I wonder what happens if they refuse to pay the fine?

      1. Jordan Peterson shut down a whole discussion when he asked that very question in response to everyone assuring him that no one would go to jail for using the wrong pronouns (now law in Canada) and would only be fined.

        1. Every law the government enacts has the threat of the gun behind it.

          1. As long as you go along like a good little sheep, the gun stays in the holster, and you can pretend it’s not there. But it always is.

            1. It is interesting, if also a bit alarming, to learn that Pei supports this “First Amendment” item that everyone keeps talking about. Surely he would not dare to defend the “First Amendment dissent” of a single, isolated judge in our nation’s leading criminal “satire” case, or the contrarian “editorial” recently published by one of those pox-laden rags that should be banned? See:


          2. It’s easier to say “There ought to be a law for this” than it is to say “We ought to throw people in a cage against their will for this”

  2. First Amendment and that the agency will not revoke a broadcast license simply because the president is dissatisfied with the licensee’s coverage.”

    Sean Penn hardest hit.

  3. That proposal, like Trump’s assertion that “licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked” in response to “partisan, distorted and fake” news coverage, is obviously anathema to the First Amendment

    If the broadcaster is presenting false information as true, his license is subject to challenge in accordance with the law. In this case “you didn’t build that” applies to the publicly owned airwaves. Whether or not the FCC administrative judge will agree, and revoke/suspend/not renew the license is determined on a case by case basis.

    1. The public can have all the airwaves they want. The broadcasters do actually build the electromagnetic waves they use. Of course, I know what you are saying, just can’t pass up a chance to be technically correct here.

      And MSNBC doesn’t have or need a broadcast license.

      1. Broadcasters do not build the men with guns who would visit violence against anyone who interferes with their broadcast signal.

  4. What I want to know is this. Donald Trump does an awful thing, and everybody but FOX News reports on it. He calls it fake news because FOX News told him to think that. But he surely remembers doing the thing? Or doesn’t he? Is he actively lying, or is he extremely delusional?

  5. Trump demanding equal time when every journalist is glued to his twatter feed. sigh.

    1. It’s the popular thing to do when you’re president nowadays.

      I remember Bill Clinton publicly whining about the same thing. He even called out Rush Limbaugh for “getting three hours a day” to say stuff.

  6. I’m glad to hear this.

    It’s good to see an Executive branch where some of the members will refuse to do some of the President’s idiotic policy ideas.

  7. “History won’t be kind to silence,” the Democratic appointee said on CNN…

    I thought I had read that Pai had previously rejected the notion, but people were criticizing him for not saying anything.

  8. Trump will continue playing with his laser-pointer and network talking heads will continue chasing it into the wall.

  9. So, where’s the policy?

    Everyone’s talking about Trump’s censorious policy statements. Well, where are they?

    The tweets? That’s it?

    Trump’s been spitting out outrageous tweets since long before he was ever president–or even running for president–why do so many think they’ve suddenly morphed into Holy Writ?


    1. Trump derangement syndrome is what the psychiatrist community is going to eventually call Trump’s condition, should it appear in others.

      If he had a (D) after his name and engaged in this lunacy you’d be freaking the fuck out.

    2. He did suddenly become president earlier in the year. Which changes things a bit when he does actually have the power and influence to do a lot of the stupid crap he tweets. That’s not TDS, that’s calling out a president on shit he says in public.
      No, it isn’t reasonable to assume that he’s actually going to do all the ridiculous stuff he tweets. But it also shows what an unprincipled cunt he is.

      1. Which changes things a bit when he does actually have the power and influence to do a lot of the stupid crap he tweets.

        Except he doesn’t have such power and influence.

  10. Isn’t it just a tad ironic that the man who received more free coverage during the election than any other candidate, stations even cutting away from actual speeches to focus on the empty podium where he would soon stand; should now be demanding equal time with the likes of SNL, Steven Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Bill Maher and John Oliver. He has the bully pulpit of the WH and his every tweet is retweeted endlessly by his loyal minions but he still sees himself as persecuted.

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