U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to strip NBC News of its broadcast license, saying it’s “frankly disgusting” the way the media is able to write whatever it wants.
On Wednesday, Trump lashed out at NBC after the network reported the president was seeking to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal tenfold, which he later denied.
Trump took to Twitter and called the network “fake news” and said, “at what point is it appropriate to challenge their license?”
He later tweeted, “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licences must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!”
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent federal agency, does not license broadcast networks but issues licenses to individual broadcast stations that are renewed on a staggered basis for eight-year periods.
A station could be deemed unfit and have its license stripped if it were telling lies and spreading fake news, as Trump claims. But Harold Feld of the consumer group Public Knowledge told the Associated Press, that it’s really tough to prove.
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“The reality is it is just about impossible to make that showing,” he said. “All this stuff is opinion.”
Two FCC commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, responded to Trump on Twitter and touted freedom of the press. Rosenworcel tweeted, “Not how it works” followed by a link to a link to an FCC fact sheet.
A Republican senator, Ben Sasse, took a shot at Trump and tweeted, “Words spoken by the President of the United States matter. Are you tonight recanting the oath you took on 20 January to preserve, protect and defend the First Amendment?”
Free expression is guaranteed by the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The FCC has said the first amendment “expressly prohibits the commission from censoring broadcast matter” and that its role “in overseeing program content is very limited.”
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The president has long railed against mainstream media organizations, deriding them as “fake news.”
During a photo opportunity with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Oval Office Wednesday, Trump criticized the press. “It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write. And people should look into it,” he said.
Last week, Trump said the Congress Senate Intelligence Committee should investigate U.S. “fake news” networks for stories he claims are entirely fabricated.
In the early 1970s, then-president Richard Nixon and his top aides discussed using the FCC’s license renewal process as a way of punishing the Washington Post for its coverage of the Watergate burglary that ultimately brought down his presidency.
— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters
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