On Wednesday, Trump questioned whether what he perceives as “fake news” was justification for revoking NBC News’ broadcast license, effectively kicking the network off the air.
Trump’s vague–and likely inconsequential–threat came after NBC News reported that Trump sought to significantly increase the United States’ nuclear arsenal during a meeting in July. The meeting was reportedly what caused Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to call Trump a “moron.”
“Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a ‘tenfold’ increase in our U.S. nuclear arsenal. Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC = CNN!” Trump wrote, later adding: “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!”
Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a "tenfold" increase in our U.S. nuclear arsenal. Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC = CNN!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2017
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2017
Trump can’t unilaterally push NBC News off the air. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) licenses television stations, and as Politico reports, while there is a process for challenging a license renewal, it is “exceedingly rare.”
To be at risk of losing a license, a station must violate FCC rules or lack “character”–typically defined as a felony, according to Politico’s report.
“It’s an empty threat,” Andrew Schwartzman, a communications lawyer with the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center, told the news outlet. “The last thing that NBC is going to worry about is whether its broadcast licenses are in jeopardy.”
Similarly, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) pushed back against Trump’s idea of challenging NBC’s license, saying it “puts him in unfavorable company.”
“Heavily censored countries such as Azerbaijan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey license news outlets according to whether their leaders agree with their coverage,” Alexandra Ellerbeck, a North American Program Coordinator at CPJ, said in a statement. “Donald Trump’s assertion that NBC’s license could be challenged not only puts him in unfavorable company but emboldens other governments to embrace authoritarian tendencies.”