In the “probably saw this coming department”, President Donald Trump sent out a tweet Wednesday morning stating NBC should have “its license challenged” because of what he perceives as the unfair way the network covers his administration. He repeated the threat while holding a press conference with the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trump was incensed about an NBC report on the administration increasing the nuclear arsenal, dismissing it as “fake news”, which he accuses the major news networks of (except Fox, naturally)
The President later “doubled down” on his earlier tweet, extending the threat to all broadcast networks.
As a lot of you know, networks are do not have “licenses”; broadcast, over-the-air television and radio stations have them with the FCC. NBC however, does own eleven television stations including WMAQ here in Chicago. NBC also owns stations in other large markets, including WNBC New York, KNBC in Los Angeles, and WRC in Washington, D.C., where the White House is. NBC also owns stations who are affiliates of sister Spanish-language network Telemundo, including Chicago’s WSNS.
NBC’s parent company is Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable operator, who bought the network in 2010. Trump starred in NBC’s Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice, but both shows were not produced by or owned by the network.
The tweets were widely condemned as an attack on the First Amendment, including from National Association of Broadcasters chief Gordon Smith, himself a former Republican congressman. “The founders of our nation set as a cornerstone of our democracy the First Amendment, forever enshrining and protecting freedom of the press,” Smith said. “It is contrary to this fundamental right for any government official to threaten the revocation of an FCC license simply because of a disagreement with the reporting of a journalist.” .
Massachusetts congressman Ed Markey also criticized the comments and wants FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to pledge there would be no license action. Recently, Pai said he would protect the interests of the First Amendment – no matter what administration was in power in the White House. However, he has been silent on the latest controversy involving Trump in the media.
Also criticizing the President included journalist trade organization RTNDA and former FCC Commissioners Al Sikes and Michael Copps.
License challenges are fairly common, though more so in the 1970s’. But license revocation for a television station is rare: to date, only five stations received the television equivalent of the death penalty, including one in Boston who lost their license twice. The last time the FCC did so was in 1990 when in a confusing and complex case, disqualified WSNS’s license in relation to its defunct ONTV subscription service.
On Saturday, Trump attacked late-night hosts making fun of him, saying there should be “equal time”, referring to the action taken when a candidate is running for office. Some interpret this as Trump wanting the Fairness Doctrine to return, abolished thirty years ago by the Republican-led FCC under the Reagan Administration.
The latest swipes at the industry tell us President Trump has a complete total disdain for the media – not to mention the First Amendment as his attacks on major networks and journalists continue unabated. He really has no idea on how the industry works. The electorate voted him in to run the country – not the media business. And he’s not doing a good job even at that.