A suggestion by President Donald Trump that a USA regulator pull broadcast licenses from TV networks over what Trump calls "fake news" has been met by silence from the watchdog's head Ajit Pai, who has a history of defending free speech rights.
President Donald Trump questioned whether Federal Communications Commission (FCC) licences should be taken from NBC television stations after the network published a story on Wednesday saying he had sought a large increase in the United States nuclear arsenal.
Trump is not the first POTUS to try and challenge the FCC broadcast station licenses of media companies with news organizations whose reporting he didn't agree with.
But Trump wouldn't be able to revoke any licenses from news networks. "Not fair to public!"
"People are just now starting to find out how dishonest and disgusting (FakeNews) @NBCNews is", Trump tweeted.
"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", Pai said in the September 15 remarks. Comcast owns 10 NBC stations, including in NY and Los Angeles.
But Trump's words still have weight, even with no action attached.
While the commissioners of the FCC are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate, the agency's relative independence is there by design to push back on situations where someone in the executive branch would attempt to dampen the free speech protections provided to licensed broadcasters.
The FCC issues licences to owners of television stations, which must be periodically renewed.
NBC News has reported on tensions between Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and has said Trump sought a dramatic increase in the USA nuclear arsenal during a meeting with national security advisers in July.
The request was what reportedly led Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to call Trump a "moron".
The FCC doesn't issue broadcast licenses to networks, but it does issue licenses to individual stations.
Senator Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, said on Twitter Trump's comments were "unacceptable attacks on the #FirstAmendment by @POTUS".
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