May 11, 2020 / 5:38 PM / 17 days ago

Trump again pressures U.S. regulator on news programming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump is again pressuring the U.S. Federal Communications Commission over a broadcast news program after failing for years to convince regulators to take any action against broadcasters.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump meets with senior military leadership and the National Security Team in the Cabinet room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 9, 2020. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

On Monday, Trump said NBC News “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd should be fired, suggesting the program misleadingly aired only part of U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s answer to a question. Trump tweeted at FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and said Todd “knew exactly what he was doing. Public Airwaves = Fake News! @AjitPaiFCC.”

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec called the video and Todd’s commentary “deceptive.”

In a Twitter post, “Meet the Press” said “we inadvertently and inaccurately cut short a video clip of an interview with AG Barr before offering commentary and analysis. The remaining clip included important remarks from the attorney general that we missed, and we regret the error.”

NBC and its parent Comcast Corp declined to comment. A White House spokesman declined to comment and a Pai spokesman did not comment.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel rejected Trump’s tweet. “This is not how our rules work. The FCC doesn’t sanction stations for what journalists say,” she wrote.

In March, Trump’s re-election campaign sent letters to several local TV stations demanding they stop airing an ad critical of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and suggested continued airings “could put (the) station’s license in jeopardy.”

The letters prompted calls from Democrats to Pai to denounce the threats. Pai said in an April 7 letter that “absent very narrow circumstances, the government cannot and should not investigate stations or revoke licenses based on programming the station airs.”

Pai also urged Democrats to reject calls to investigate broadcasts for airing Trump press conferences on coronavirus.

The FCC said in April it would take no action over those broadcasts as Pai said “the federal government will not - and never should - investigate broadcasters for their editorial judgments.”

For three years, Trump has repeatedly criticized NBC and AT&T Inc’s CNN news programs and journalists.

In October 2017, Trump suggested the FCC could challenge the license of NBC after stories Trump declared were not true, but Pai said it had no authority to do so.

The FCC, an independent federal agency, does not license broadcast networks. It does issue them to individual stations that are renewed on a staggered basis for eight-year periods.

Courts have held that a station exercising its First Amendment rights is not adequate grounds to challenge a license. The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees freedoms of speech and the press.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler

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