Donald Trump attacked for authoritarian threat to shut down critical news stations

Others called it an affront to free speech in the US

Clark Mindock
New York
Wednesday 11 October 2017 19:30 BST
Mr Trump is being criticized for his attacks on the press
Mr Trump is being criticized for his attacks on the press (ALEX EDELMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey says that Donald Trump’s threats to take away the broadcast licenses for major American networks is an affront to the constitution and American free speech.

“I write to urge you to maintain the Federal Communication commission’s (FCC) charter as an independent agency and withstand any urges from President Trump to harm the news media and infringe upon the First Amendment,” Mr Markey started his letter to FCC chairman Ajit Pai.

The President had tweeted earlier that morning that he was considering pulling back the license for NBC, and perhaps other networks, after a story emerged on the network indicating he had asked to increase the US nuclear arsenal “tenfold” during a meeting with his joint chiefs of staff and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. NBC also had reported that Mr Tillerson had called the President a “moron” after that meeting.

Mr Trump said that the networks were “fake news”, and that they should not be allowed to continue spreading their lies. The President has frequently labelled news organizations as “fake news” when they publish critical coverage of his administration.

Others joined Mr Markey in criticizing the President’s tweet.

“This is an unacceptable attack on the free press by Trump,” Senator Maggie Hassan, a Democrat from New Hampshire, tweeted, urging Mr Pai to denounce the statement from the President.

Washington Free Beacon executive editor, a right-wing newspaper, Sonny Bunch responded by comparing the statements to press crackdowns in Venezuela when Chavists overtook the government.

“Quick, ask someone in favour of Trump revoking NBC’s broadcast license [how they] felt about the Chavistas cracking down on the press in Venezuela,” Mr Bunch wrote.

Political and foreign policy commentator Steve Clemons argued that the move was largely symbolic.

“Trump threatens NBC on broadcast license. It’s a fake threat but sends dangerous signal globally & at home,” Mr Clemons wrote.

It’s not clear that Mr Trump would be able to force the FCC to rescind broadcast licenses, and any effort to do so would likely result in legal challenges.

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