Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai declined Thursday to follow through on a request from 12 senators that his bureau review Sinclair Broadcasting group’s license and temporarily block its merger with Tribune Media.
Eleven Democratic senators and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders wrote their request in a letter to Pai Thursday that highlighted the local television media conglomerate’s recent move to force its anchors in dozens of U.S. cities to read a scripted, uniform segment blasting “fake news” and media bias that favors liberals.
Pai rejected their request via a letter of his own Thursday, saying the FCC could not revoke licenses over the contents of a particular newscast. That statement tracked with comments he made last year when President Donald Trump questioned whether the FCC should consider revoking NBC News’ license.
Right wing news site Breitbart News first reported on Pai’s letter.
“I understand that you disliked or disagreed with the content of particular broadcasts,” the FCC chairman wrote in response to the senators, “but I can hardly think of an action more chilling of free speech than the federal government investigating a broadcast station because of disagreement with its news coverage.”
A video showing side-by-side audio and video footage of anchors from Sinclair’s affiliate stations went viral earlier in April.
President Donald Trump chided other media outlets and people for crying foul over the scripted segments.
So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2018
The 12 senators based their request on the belief that Sinclair is “deliberately distorting news,” a violation of FCC policy, by accusing other outlets’ journalists of fabricating or sensationalizing stories.
“We are concerned that Sinclair is engaged in a systematic news distortion operation that seeks to undermine freedom of the press and the robust localism and diversity of viewpoint that is the foundation of our national broadcasting laws,” the senators wrote.