WASHINGTON — On Friday, 20 press freedom, media justice, labor and civil liberties groups submitted a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai urging him to publicly condemn President Donald Trump's threats to challenge the broadcast licenses of news media outlets he dislikes. Signers of the letter also include former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and former FCC commissioners Michael J. Copps and Gloria Tristani.
This week, Trump took to Twitter to attack NBC for critical coverage of his administration, specifically suggesting that the FCC should revoke the broadcaster’s license as punishment.
“As an independent agency charged with protecting the public interest and overseeing the public airwaves, the FCC must resist any attempts to co-opt the broadcast-licensing process to suit the president’s whims,” reads the letter, which was signed by Color of Change, Committee to Protect Journalists, the Communications Workers of America, Free Press, Freedom of the Press Foundation, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, PEN America and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, among others. (The full letter is online here and below).
As FCC chairman, Pai has failed to speak out in defense of the First Amendment and against President Trump’s frequent attacks on news organizations and reporters.
In hearings before Congress earlier this year, Pai dodged repeated questions about whether he agreed with the president’s characterization of the news media as the “enemy of the American people.”
Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron made the following statement:
"We’re entering dangerous waters when the nation’s top media regulator — head of the allegedly independent agency that guards the public airwaves — won’t stand up for press freedom and the First Amendment.
“This is the time to put our constitutional rights and core democratic values above party and politics. When the president threatens to punish news outlets for critical coverage, even his own appointees — especially his own appointees — must speak out and make absolutely clear they won't do it. So far, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's silence speaks volumes."
Free Press also launched an online petition asking the public to call on the FCC chairman to “publicly stand against this administration’s latest assault on press freedom.”
The text of the letter to Chairman Pai follows below:
Dear Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai:
We’re writing to urge you to uphold the First Amendment and to publicly refuse to entertain any broadcast-license challenges on the basis of the president’s disapproval of a network’s news coverage.
In the past two days, President Trump has taken to Twitter to attack NBC for critical coverage of his administration and specifically to suggest that the broadcaster’s license might be revoked as punishment.
Coming from a president who has repeatedly referred to the news media as the “enemy of the American people,” these tweets continue a disturbing pattern in this administration to undercut vital press freedoms.
As an independent agency charged with protecting the public interest and overseeing the public airwaves, the FCC must resist any attempts to co-opt the broadcast-licensing process to suit the president’s whims.
Such threats are what you would expect to hear in a dictatorship, not a democracy, and they must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.
Above all, the First Amendment declares that the government shall not censor news because it’s critical of the government. We strongly urge you to publicly stand against this administration’s latest assault on press freedom.
National Press Club
National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-CWA
Bruce D. Brown
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
National Press Club Journalism Institute
Color Of Change
Michael J. Copps
Former FCC Commissioner
Media Law Resource Center
Reporters Without Borders
Media Mobilizing Project
National Hispanic Media Coalition
Committee to Protect Journalists
National Press Photographers Association
Center for Media Justice
Communications Workers of America (CWA)
Freedom of the Press Foundation
Former FCC Commissioner
Former FCC Chairman
Writers Guild of America, East