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FCC chair Ajit Pai on Trump's NBC tweet: 'I believe in the First Amendment'

| Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, 4:39 p.m.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai speaks during the 2017 NAB Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center on April 25, 2017 in Las Vegas.
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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai speaks during the 2017 NAB Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center on April 25, 2017 in Las Vegas.

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission lacks authority to revoke broadcast licenses in retaliation for news reporting, its chairman said Tuesday in his first public remarks on the topic since President Trump threatened the licenses of news networks almost a week ago.

"I believe in the First Amendment," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in remarks at an event in Washington. "The FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast."

Trump on Oct. 11 asked whether FCC licenses should be taken from NBC after the network published a story saying he'd called for a tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal in a meeting with military and security officials.

The president later told his 40.6 million Twitter followers that, "Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!"

The FCC doesn't license networks. It issues licenses to owners of television stations, which must be periodically renewed. NBCUniversal, the parent company of the network, is owned by Comcast Corp., which owns 10 NBC stations, including in New York and Los Angeles. The television network also broadcasts through more than 200 stations owned by independent businesses.

Pai, a Republican FCC member since 2012 who was elevated to chairman by Trump in January, said last month in Washington that freedom of speech "should unite Americans across the ideological spectrum."

Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic FCC commissioner, said on CNN Sunday that the FCC must support the First Amendment and can't dictate what content should be on the airwaves.

"History won't be kind to silence," she said. "It's important for all the commissioners to make clear that they support the First Amendment, and that agency will not revoke a broadcast license simply because the president is dissatisfied with the licensee's coverage."

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