A Little Part of the First Amendment Dies at FCC Oversight Hearing

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The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on oversight of the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday, March 8. A good time was had by all. The committee’s senators highlighted a wide range of issues during the 2+ hour hearing. Here we focus on the First Amendment, broadband deployment, network neutrality, privacy, and the future makeup of the FCC. In an op-ed published in The Hill, former-FCC Commissioner Michael Copps urged new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to speak out in defense of the First Amendment and freedom of the press. As a FCC Commissioner, Pai said, “In my view, anyone who has the privilege of serving at the FCC—any preacher with a pulpit, if you will—has the duty to speak out whenever Americans’ First Amendment rights are at stake.” With President Donald Trump calling journalists “the enemy of the American people”, Copps and others are looking to the nation’s top communications regulator to declare the government has no place pressuring media organizations. In his opening remarks, Committee Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL) said, “Ultimately, for this senator, the success or failure of the commission rests not on the fulfillment of special interest wish lists, but on how those who are least able to protect themselves have been treated and whether first amendment rights, including those of journalists, are vigorously protected.” During the hearing, Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) pressed Chairman Pai to affirm his support of a free press, but Pai repeatedly refused to directly answer whether he agreed or disagreed with the President. Instead Pai said, “I don’t want to wade into the larger political debates, but I will simply reaffirm the quotes that you offered from last year and the year before.” Sen. Udall pressed Pai saying, “You refuse to answer that, about the media being the enemy of the American people.” Later Sen Hassan also returned to the issue saying, “I’d just like to give you another chance, because it seems to me that if you’re an outspoken defender of the free press, that should be a pretty easy question for you.” “No,” Pai answered. “I believe that every American enjoys the protections of the First Amendment offered by the Constitution.” Sen. Hassan said she wished she had gotten a different response.


A Little Part of the First Amendment Dies at FCC Oversight Hearing