House Energy & Commerce Committee leaders want FCC chairman Ajit Pai's assurance the FCC won't pull TV station licenses over airing protected speech.
President Donald Trump's reelection campaign sent a letter to some TV stations telling them to stop running an ad from Priorities USA (PUSA) Action Fund, a Democratic Super PAC, or their licenses could be at risk.
The campaign said that the ad, which combines audio of the President downplaying the seriousness of the virus at the outset, falsely says that Trump called the coronavirus a 'hoax.'
In their letter to Chairman Pai, House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Communications Subcommittee chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said that suggesting the licenses could be in jeopardy was contrary to the Constitution and the Communications Act.
“At a time when autocratic governments around the world are using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to suppress press freedoms, we must reaffirm – not undermine – America’s commitment to a free press,” Pallone and Doyle wrote. “By remaining silent, the FCC sends a disturbing signal that it sanctions these threats and that broadcaster licenses could be in jeopardy.”
They called on Pai (actually they used the word "demand") to "reassure broadcasters that the agency will not revoke licenses for airing legally protected speech."
Pai has already said the FCC would not pull a license based on the content of a newscast--which Reps. Pallone and Doyle cited--but that was in regards to a veiled license threat from President Trump against NBC--he said "someone should challenge the license--over the content of a newscast he said was fake news.
But this was an ad, not a newscast, and the legislators want new assurances. “We believe, the FCC has a duty to provide clear guidance to broadcasters and the public that threats by politicians about protected speech will not influence the agency or broadcaster licenses,” they wrote.
Broadcasting & Cable Newsletter
The smarter way to stay on top of broadcasting and cable industry. Sign up below
Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.