At an oversight hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday, Pai was asked whether he agreed with Trump. Pai said that he was a defender of the First Amendment, but when it came to that particular comment, he said, “I don’t want to wade into the larger political debates.”
Democrats on the Commerce Committee, led by its ranking member, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), wrote in a letter to Pai, “While you have long claimed to be an advocate for the freedom of the press and the First Amendment, your silence on the matter and refusal to take a stand against threats levied at the media is troubling given your regulatory and oversight role over the industry. Moreover, such a lack of response could call into question the ongoing independence of the FCC under your watch.”
In addition to requesting answers to Trump’s comment, the senators also asked Pai about the independence of the agency, and whether he would commit “as a condition for your elevation or renomination as chairman of the FCC, to take any action against a specific media entity or generally against broadcast entities, cable network owners, or other media outlets.”
Pai faces reconfirmation from the Senate after Trump renominated him earlier this week to another five-year term.
An FCC spokesman noted that last year, when Pai dissented in a vote to largely retain the FCC’s media ownership rules, he said, “Of course, newspaper reporters continue to do important work throughout our country each and every day. Many were recently reminded of the impact that their stories can have through the 2015 film ‘Spotlight,’ which won the Academy Award for best picture. The movie focused on The Boston Globe’s investigation into widespread child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests in and around Boston — reporting that ended up having a worldwide impact on the Catholic Church. But given the newspaper industry’’ profound financial troubles, it is becoming harder and harder for publications to do this type of investigatory journalism, hold our elected officials to account, and let Americans know what is going on in their communities.”
The FCC spokesman said, “Chairman Pai continues to believe that. Chairman Pai is a strong supporter of the First Amendment rights of the media and all Americans. He has protected those rights at the FCC and will continue to do so as long as he is privileged to serve at the Commission.”
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