In reaction to President Donald Trump's threats to challenge the broadcast licenses of news media outlets he dislikes, 20 press freedom, media justice, labor and civil liberties groups including the National Press Photographers Association submitted a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai urging him to condemn the president's comments publicly.
Signers of the letter sent on October 13 include former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and former FCC commissioners Michael J. Copps and Gloria Tristani.
“The NPPA stands with these organizations for protecting First Amendment freedom of the press. We have no problems with the president being critical of the press but we feel he should be a defender of press freedoms rather than someone trying to quash them.” said Akili-Casundia Ramsess, executive director of the NPPA.
On October 11, Trump took to Twitter to attack NBC for critical coverage of his administration with several tweets. In one, he wrote “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!” In aonther, he wrote, "Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!"
Trump disagreed with an NBC story that said he, in a meeting in July with military and security officials, had called for increasing the U.S. nuclear capacity to close to 10 times its current levels. Trump denied he said those things. The report also said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to the president as a “moron.”
The letter to Pai states that: “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.”
The FCC chairman has been silent on Trump’s verbal attacks on journalists and First Amendment issues. He has dodged questions about whether he agrees that the news media is “the enemy of the American People” as Trump has said.
Free Press, a media advocacy group that initiated the letter, has launched an online petition calling on FCC chairman Pai to “publicly stand against this administration’s latest assault on press freedom.”
The text of the letter to Chairman Pai:
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 Press Photographers Association
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
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