Trump threatens NBC but experts see no real risk to licenses
NEW YORK - The Associated Press
President Donald Trump is threatening NBC's broadcast licenses because he's not happy with how its news division has covered him. But experts say his threats aren't likely to lead to any action.
The network itself doesn't need a license to operate, but individual stations do. NBC owns several stations in major cities. Stations owned by other companies such as Tribune and Cox carry NBC's news shows and other programs elsewhere. Licenses come from the Federal Communications Commission, an independent government agency whose chairman is a Trump appointee.
Trump tweeted Oct. 11, "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!"
He returned to the topic later in the day, tweeting: "Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!"
NBC spokeswoman Hilary Smith had no comment. The FCC did not respond to messages seeking comment.
These days, license renewals are fairly routine. A station could be deemed unfit and have its license stripped if it were telling lies and spreading fake news, as Trump claims. But Harold Feld of the consumer group Public Knowledge says that's tough to prove.
"The reality is it is just about impossible to make that showing," he said. "All this stuff is opinion."
Feld said he can recall just two instances in the past 20 years when there has been a renewal challenge. One involved an owner of radio stations who was convicted of child molestation, and the other when someone died as part of a radio station's contest. Both lost their licenses.
Although yanking a license is rare, just the threat could put pressure on NBC's news coverage.
"The words 'license renewal' are ones which have had a chilling effect in the past on broadcasters," said lawyer Floyd Abrams, an expert on the First Amendment, citing Richard Nixon's attempts to sway news coverage as president. "The threat, however unlikely, is one that broadcasters will have to take seriously."
The National Association of Broadcasters, a trade group, said it was contrary to First Amendment principles "for any government official to threaten the revocation of an FCC license simply because of a disagreement with the reporting of a journalist."
Following his tweet, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, "It's frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write and people should look into it."