FCC: We Can’t Revoke Licenses Over Content

By on October 17, 2017
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

Speaking on Tuesday at an event on telecommunications law, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that his agency does not have the power to revoke broadcast licenses based on the content of a newscast. This is the first time that he has commented on the issue since President Trump first hinted that he might push to have licenses pulled from what he calls “fake news” networks.

“I believe in the First Amendment,” Pai said. “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 content of a particular newscast.”

Pai also said it is not the purview is his agency to decide what is “fake news” and what isn’t.

“Traditionally that has not been within the FCC’s jurisdiction,” he said. “I’m a lawyer by training, of course. I tend to hew as closely as I can to the terms of the Communications Act and of course to other applicable legal principles, and so that’s the standard that we adopt, at least, going forward.”

Moreover, the FCC’s license system doesn’t really address large broadcast networks. The agency licenses smaller, independently-owned affiliate networks in local markets that must be renewed on a regular basis.

The Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) issued a statement in response to Pai’s comments, calling for a stronger response to Trump’s censorship overtures.

“This statement is better than nothing, but it is merely a reiteration of the FCC’s authorities under the law. What we needed is a full-throated defense of the independence of the FCC against political interference. When the president announced his intent to retaliate against a broadcaster based on content, the FCC should have rejected it.”