Can Donald Trump Really Revoke Network Licenses?

The President of the United States must have been watching the tube again, because he took to Twitter twice on Wednesday to announce a new war on "fake news," his term for actual news reported by credible outlets such as CNN and The New York Times.

Wednesday morning, Donald Trump asked "at what point is it appropriate to challenge [NBC's] License?" It was almost certainly a reference to NBC's report that Trump requested a tenfold increase in nuclear weapon production as he continues to have a chest-puffing contest with North Korea's Kim Jong-un. Trump denies he ever said such a thing.

Later that day, he was obviously still ruffled by NBC's report that he doubled down with a new tweet, saying the networks that are pumping out "fake news" should have their licenses revoked "if appropriate."

The tweets follow Trump's earlier statement that "it's disgusting that the press can say whatever it wants," bringing his war against the media back to the forefront. But here's the question you're probably asking yourself: can Donald Trump actually shut a network like NBC down? He's the most powerful man in the world, right?

Yeah, he's pretty powerful, but he can't flip a switch and turn off NBC right in the middle of This Is Us or the NBC Nightly News. Even the commissioner of the FCC pointed it out.

Here's how it works. Television falls under the jurisdiction of the government created and funded but independent Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which was formed in 1934 to ensure forms of communication (then radio, but expanded to television and internet nowadays) were regulated and distributed across the country to everyone "regardless of race, color, religion, national origin or sex."

The independence of the commission was designed specifically for situations like this. A president who didn't like what was being said about him couldn't black out a station. It's part of something called the First Amendment.

Even the FCC would have a challenge in shutting a network like NBC, CBS, ABC or Fox down or preventing it from airing certain things, according to its own rules. "As discussed in this Manual, however, broadcasters - not the FCC or any other government agency - are responsible for selecting the material that they air. By operation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and because the Communications Act expressly prohibits the Commission from censoring broadcast matter, our role in overseeing program content is very limited."

In fact, networks don't even have the licenses that Trump thinks exist; the thousands of broadcasters -- i.e. your local NBC affiliate -- do. But they get to choose the type of material they air, not the FCC or the president. If you'll remember, Salt Lake City's NBC affiliate opted not to show programs like The Playboy Club, The New Normal and Hannibal, because it got to choose the NBC programming that was shown, not the FCC or anyone else. (Censorship is bad, but not having to watch The Playboy Club was a fortunate side effect.)

So if Trump really did want to shut down NBC for reporting news, he would have to make over 200 phone calls to the operators of the broadcast stations that carry NBC programming and beg them to not air the very things that make them money. Good luck with that, Mr. President.

This article originally appears on TV

Comments (3)
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Oct 12, 2017
Could it be that what Mr. Trump is really, if clumsily, doing is calling for his True Believers to oppose the licenses of the affiliated stations one-by-one as they come up for renewal over the next few years?
Oct 12, 2017
There's nothing presidential about that Fart clown.