President Trump Can’t Pull NBC’s ‘License’ – But That Doesn’t Mean Stations Are Safe

Source: Wrap, The
Author: Susan Seager
Coverage Type: reporting
Washington, DC, United States

President Trump’s threat to pull NBC’s license doesn’t make sense for a lot of reasons — starting with the fact that NBC doesn’t have a license to begin with. But it is still alarming to news outlets, because federal regulations aren’t clear about whether federal regulators can intervene to stop “fake” news.

You might assume the First Amendment protects all reporting. But current Federal Communications Commission language leaves open the possibility of government intervention, under certain narrow conditions. “The president has no authority to direct the FCC to revoke a broadcast license,” said former Federal Communications Commission lawyer Robert Corn-Revere. “The FCC is an independent regulatory agency.” But presidents can still exert influence — especially since they appoint all five FCC commissioners. And the FCC may exert influence, too. But no one can say for sure how heavy its hand might be. The FCC states on its website that it will investigate stations accused of deliberately distorting the news, but that the burden of proof is high. The commission says it will generally not intervene in cases in which viewers believe stations have “aired inaccurate or one-sided news reports or comments, covered stories inadequately, or overly dramatized the events that they cover” because “it would be inconsistent with the First Amendment to replace the journalistic judgment of licensees with our own.” The FCC’s policy on intentional “distortion” is a troubling one for television companies, according to Mark Schnieder, a former FCC lawyer and adjunct law professor at Georgetown University Law School.



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