In normal times in the US, an FCC Chairman would never have to declare publicly that broadcasters don’t have to fear the government annulling their licenses. These, however, are not normal times. These are the times of the erratic, enigmatic, and volatile President Trump. Perhaps, then, it is no surprise that Trump’s handpicked FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, had to do a verbal tap-dance after the President went off about the media once again.
Pai was forced to walk back comments (via Twitter) in which the President trotted out his favorite rant about “fake news” and suggested the so-called false reporting of news by a broadcaster (NBC) be dealt with by possibly voiding its broadcast license. Pai used the opportunity to do so six days later, at an event hosted by George Mason University just after Pai was confirmed for a new term at the helm of the FCC.
Many Oval Office observers were alarmed not only with Trump’s outrageous tweet but also that it took the FCC chairman, whose agency oversees such matters, six days to address the matter. Pai, who has had the best vantage point by reason of his position, ignored any immediate opportunity of allaying fears of government censorship of the media in the world’s alleged beacon of free speech.
The FCC chairmanship may have given Pai a pulpit to reassert the US’s free speech rights, which are guaranteed by the First Amendment. However, no power resides with the agency to sanction broadcasters thusly. Pai said,
“… under the law the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast.”
Before that, he also maintained,
“The FCC under my leadership will stand for the First Amendment.”
That’s good to know. However, it’s too bad the First Amendment rights won’t help or apply in the net neutrality fracas, as the free speech of millions of Americans protesting against its impending dismantling seems to go unheeded.
Trump has often called for free airtime access from the networks to rebut the rampant criticism he faces from the liberal-leaning media. However, the truth is that most of the media is biased one way or the other. The NY Times editors have admitted their liberal bias, while the Washington Post is off-the-charts liberally left. These extremes are countered by the stance of conservative and right-leaning publications such as the Washington Times, Washington Examiner, and the most widely read newspaper, the Wall Street Journal.
Among the broadcaster media, the major networks are blatantly biased to the left, as are cable outlets CNN and MSNBC. That’s countered by the very right-wing ratings winner, FoxNews. At any rate, the issue isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) about content. It’s about saying what you want to say as long as it can be portrayed as in the public interest. The government should not be the arbiter of content. Just as the government has checks and balances, so does the media.
Though Pai’s response was tardy, it was at least succinct. He came right out and said what he and the FCC stand for. Pai said the FCC shouldn’t micromanage how much time broadcasters spend on different topics. Since nothing goes on in Washington without politics, he probably cleared his comments with Trump. Ajit Pai may be many things, but he’s neither stupid nor short-sighted.
Opinions are the writer’s own.