July 19, 2017

VIDEO: Udall Demands Assurances from Pai on Fair Treatment, Regulation of Media

After Trump attacks and trend of violence against media, Udall presses FCC chairman to speak up & protect press freedom

VIDEO: https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4677142/udall-demands-assurances-pai-fair-treatment-regulation-media

WASHINGTON — Today, during a Commerce Committee confirmation hearing for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai and two other FCC Commission nominees, U.S. Senator Tom Udall pressed Pai about his previous lack of full-throated commitment to regulating the media in a fair and impartial matter, in light of the Trump administration’s repeated attacks on media organizations and threats to punish media outlets for their reporting. Udall also raised his serious concerns about recent instances of violence against the media – including an FCC security guard man-handling a journalist — questioned Pai's response to these events, and urged him to speak out against violence and intimidation tactics used against journalists.

President Trump "has continued his unprecedented and dangerous attacks on media organizations that report stories that he does not like,” said Udall, citing a litany of examples. On June 28th, the president tweeted “The #AmazonWashingtonPost, sometimes referred to as the guardian of Amazon not paying internet taxes (which they should) is FAKE NEWS!” Udall said that “many people viewed this tweet as a threat by the president of the United States to pursue higher taxes against a company in retaliation for negative news coverage. That’s just outrageous.” Udall also cited a New York Times report that said, “White House advisers have discussed a potential point of leverage over their adversary … a pending merger between CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, and AT&T.” In regards to this pending merger, Udall quoted then-candidate Trump as saying "AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”

Udall then raised another major media merger pending before the FCC – the proposed acquisition of the Tribune Company by Sinclair Broadcasting. "There are real concerns that this merger would violate media ownership rules. But the FCC has already helped pave the way for this merger by reinstating the so-called 'UHF discount' that enables TV companies to get bigger. Sinclair now requires all their local stations to air video commentary pieces by a former Trump administration staffer who generally support the Trump administration. Sinclair’s CEO has also been quite complimentary of you personally."

"The contrasting approach here creates the very real perception that the Trump administration would act to reward friendly coverage and punish negative coverage,” Udall said, pointing out that Pai himself has been "hesitant to answer direct questions about the president’s attacks against FCC regulated media companies that have reported stories critical of the administration.” He asked Pai to pledge to exercise his authority as chairman of the FCC to regulate the media in an impartial manner, to which Pai replied that he would. Udall also asked Pai if he has had any communications with the White House, directly or through an intermediary, regarding any media regulatory issues since March, to which Pai replied that he has not, nor is he aware that he or his staff have been communicated to by White House intermediaries. Finally, Udall asked Pai if he believes it "is appropriate for any federal official with power over media organizations to attack or threaten them with legal or regulatory retaliation over negative media coverage.” Pai did not directly answer the question, though he committed that he himself “will not do so.”

Udall has repeatedly raised concerns about whether Pai has been fully committed to press freedom. In one of the most disturbing examples, FCC security man-handled CQ reporter John Donnelly and pinned him against a wall after he sought to ask questions of Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. Udall and U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-N.H) sent a letter to Pai demanding answers, to which Pai responded in writing, saying he agreed the incident was inexcusable. But Udall has said he remains concerned that many of the details of the event were not fully explained.

Udall again raised the issue today, asking Pai and the other two nominees, former Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and current FCC General Counsel Brendan Carr about the response to the spike in violence and intimidation against individual journalists, including the FCC security incident. "Will you commit to speak out against violence and intimidation against reporters—and commit that you personally will set a good example for press access into your own public activities?” Udall asked, and Pai, Rosenworcel, and Carr all said they would.

Since President Trump took office and elevated Pai to chairman, Udall has repeatedly sought assurances from Pai that he will stand up for press freedom as the leader of the FCC. In March, Udall asked Pai if he agreed with President Trump that the media is an “enemy of the American people,” but Pai refused to answer. Udall and Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee followed up with a letter to Pai demanding answers about his positions on press freedom and his ability to be an independent regulator of the media.