FCC Chairman Ajit Pai responded Thursday to a call by Democratic senators to investigate the Sinclair Broadcast Group over a scripted commentary on "fake news" that was read at several news outlets.
Here's what Pai responded
Chairman Pai explained that he would rather err on the side of freedom than the side of censorship.
"Thank you for your letter requesting that the Commission investigate a broadcaster based on the content of its news coverage and promotion of that coverage," he wrote in a statement Thursday. "In light of my commitment to protecting the First Amendment and freedom of the press, I must respectfully decline."
"A free media is vital to our democracy," he continued. "That is why during my time at the Commission I have consistently opposed any effort to infringe upon the freedom of the press and have fought to eliminate regulations that impede the gathering and dissemination of news."
"Most relevant here," Pai explained, "I have repeatedly made clear that the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast."
"I understand that you disliked or disagreed with the content of particular broadcasts," he added, "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 or promotion of that coverage."
The news distortion standard
The Sinclair Broadcast Group was mocked and criticized for a commentary on "fake news" that was read by broadcast news anchors on many of their news outlets. A group of Democrats took it one step further and asked that the FCC investigate if the commentary violated the First Amendment.
"Sinclair may have violated the FCC's longstanding policy against broadcast licensees deliberately distorting news by staging, slanting, or falsifying information (traditionally known as the news distortion standard)," their letter to Pai said. "Multiple news outlets report that Sinclair has been forcing local news anchors to read Sinclair‐mandated scripts warning of the dangers of 'one-sided news stories plaguing our country,' over the protests from local news teams."
Pai himself faced death threats and intense criticism for his decision to overturn "net neutrality," which many on the left said would permanently damage and impair internet accessibility.