Under questioning by New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone at a House hearing, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai would not be drawn into criticizing the president for suggesting that the FCC ought to revoke the licenses of media companies for news stories Trump felt were untrue. However, Pai did say that he would not use the power of the FCC for retribution against any media company because of its reporting.
At a House oversight hearing Wednesday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai once again avoided rebuking President Trump for tweets calling the news media “the enemy of the American people” and suggesting that the FCC should revoke broadcast licenses of media critical of his administration.
But, under sharp questioning from Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), he made repeated commitments not to revoke the licenses of broadcasters or otherwise punish media companies because of news stories.
After asking Pai if he were aware of Trump’s tweets, Pallone asked him if “these types of statements are appropriate for the president of the United States to make.”
Pai did not take the bait.
“I am going to speak to my own views and in my own words, and my own view is I stand for the First Amendment,” he said, taking the same tack he has on at least two earlier comments on the tweets. “I am not going to characterize the views of anybody else.”
Pallone was ready for that response. He pointed out that Pai once criticized President Obama for meddling in the FCC’s net neutrality proceeding.
That was different, Pai replied. “That was a direct compromise of the agency’s independence on a particular pending issue where the agency was already heading in a different direction.”
Would you have condemned Obama if he had said what Trump had said about the news media? Pallone asked.
Pai side-stepped again. “I always focus on the facts and the law. That is our job in terms of licensing.”
That did not satisfy Pallone. “I just think there is a double-standard here,” he grumbled.
Pallone went on, saying there is concern that Pai’s “silence or overly lawyerly responses contribute to a culture of intimidation that can chill free speech.”
Noting that Pai had said in a recent speech he would not revoke the license of a company based on a single newscast, Pallone asked if he would for multiple newscasts.
“No,” Pai said.
Will you commit that your FCC will not threaten to block license transfers of media companies based on their reporting? Pallone then asked.
“Absolutely,” said Pai.
Would you commit that your FCC will not launch investigations into companies based on their reporting?
“Yes,” said Pai.
Will you commit that your FCC will not “take any act of retribution” against companies based on their reporting?
“Yes,” said Pai.
Pallone ended by scolding Pai for ignoring his written inquiries on his relationship with Sinclair Broadcast Group and other matters.
“We are going to look into your continued evasiveness of some of these issues, including Sinclair,” he said. “I’m not going to tolerate the agency not responding to us.”