Trump suggests revoking NBC's broadcast license amid attacks on 'fake news'

Mr Trump does not have direct power to impact the licensing that allows NBC to operate in the United States

Clark Mindock
New York
Tuesday 04 September 2018 16:21 BST

President Donald Trump has lashed out at NBC News, arguing once again that the US government should reconsider the network’s broadcast license — a move that would be almost impossible to follow through on.

The suggestion betrays a lack of understanding of the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) power, and of the president’s ability to influence decision making in that independent regulatory body.

Mr Trump's comments come as the president has ramped up his attacks against the media in recent weeks and months. He has frequently called the press the "enemy of the people", and lashed out at the Boston Globe and others for pushing back on rhetoric that vilifies the so-called Fourth Estate.

The president's tweet suggests action against NBC that Mr Trump does not immediately have sway over.

The network, for instance, does not have a single broadcast license — its hundreds of affiliates across the country own those licenses. Revoking all of those licenses would not be a simple process, and would not come without protest from industry leaders and possibly the public.

Plus, Mr Trump cannot immediately influence the work of the FCC, which is an independent regulatory agency. The president himself designated the members of that panel, but would only be able to lobby FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and other commissioners. He cannot directly order them to revoke a broadcast license.

Harold Feld, a senior vice president at the advocacy group Public Knowledge, told Axios last year that it is unlikely Mr Pai or others would have any interest in taking orders from the president's Tuesday morning tweets.

"Trump can't order the FCC to do it, the FCC wouldn't want to do it, and even if they did poke around they couldn't really do anything other than poke around and demand documents based on what precedents are," Mr Feld said in October, when Mr Trump also attacked NBC and suggested a re-examination of the broadcast licenses

Mr Trump has made attacking the media a fixture of his presidential rhetoric, and has found more bogeymen in the national press corps to attack than just NBC.

Soon after his 2016 election, the then president-elect reacted to reports that online actors including Russian trolls had worked to subvert the US election in his favour — in other words, actual "fake news" — by co-opting the phrase and repeatedly chastising a CNN reporter during a press conference, saying that news channel peddles in "fake news".

The attacks have had a tangible effect, and have forced news organisations to reevaluate their security plans. Meanwhile, reporters focused on the White House have faced an increasingly vitriolic public at Trump campaign events.

After a high profile attack on the media, the FBI just last week arrested a man who repeatedly threatened Boston Globe employees — including at least one instance where he said he would shoot a reporter in the head. The Globe took a lead role in coordinating editorials at newspapers across the country arguing that the press is not the "enemy of the people" as Mr Trump has claimed.

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