×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai: Free Speech ‘Under Siege’ in U.S.

WASHINGTON — FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that “free speech in practice seems to be under siege in this country,” pointing to protests to silence speakers on college campuses and to messages that the commission receives to try to shut down news channels.

“Fewer today seem to be willing to defend to the death others’ right to say things with which they might disagree,” Pai said in a speech on Friday before the Future of Speech Online forum. He called the attempt to shut down speeches and free expression on college campuses “especially distressing,” and cited incidents at Evergreen State, Yale, and Berkeley. Conservative writer Ben Shapiro spoke at Berkeley on Thursday, amid heavy security given threats of protest and even violence.

Pai added that the “common thread is the belief, shared by too many, that those with views perceived as unpopular or offensive should be silenced. One has to wonder whether those who will one day carry the torch will be dedicated to open debate or will instead seek to marginalize viewpoints they don’t like.”

Pai said that he also sees “worrying signs” at the FCC, pointing to Twitter messages in which “people regularly demand that the FCC yank licenses from cable news channels like Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN because they disagree with the opinions expressed on those networks.”

“Setting aside the fact that the FCC doesn’t license cable channels, these demands are fundamentally at odds with our legal and cultural traditions,” Pai said.

The event was sponsored by the Newseum Institute, the Charles Koch Institute, and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Democrats have pressed Pai on whether he agreed with President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media.

At a Senate hearing earlier this year, Democrats asked Pai whether he agreed with one of Donald Trump’s tweets, that the “fake news media” is the “enemy of the American people.” At a Senate hearing, Pai refused to say whether he agreed with Trump, but he said that while he was a staunch defender of the First Amendment, he did not want to “wade into the larger political debates.” In a subsequent letter to Senate Democrats, Pai said that he did not agree that the media was the “enemy of the American people” and noted that Trump had been referring to the “fake news.” (Trump, though, did single out the New York Times, CNN, and NBC News).

In his speech, Pai also said that the “hopeful” sign was the expansion of internet access, and he outlined one of his signature initiatives as FCC chair, to close the so-called “digital divide.”

“The most significant digital divides are along economic and geographic lines. Basically, if you’re wealthy and live in a city, you should be in good shape,” he said. “If you’re low-income and/or live in a rural area, you’re much more likely to have a problem.”

He said that he was worried that a shared “cultural commitment” to free speech “is beginning to unravel,” and cited a University of Pennsylvania survey showing that only 48% of Americans knew that freedom of speech was guaranteed by the First Amendment, and 37% couldn’t name any First Amendment rights at all. He also cited a Pew study showing that 40% of millennials “believed that the government should be able to bar individuals from making certain offensive statements.”

Popular on Variety

More Politics

  • Elizabeth Warren Taylor Swift

    Elizabeth Warren Backs Taylor Swift in Big Machine Battle, Slams Private Equity Firms

    Taylor Swift’s battle with Big Machine has spilled into the political arena. Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren retweeted Swift’s Thursday message about her former record label preventing her from performing her old hits at the American Music Awards, adding that Swift is “one of many whose work as been threatened by a private equity firm.” [...]

  • Adam Schiff

    Adam Schiff Slams 'That Charlatan in the White House'

    Adam Schiff was greeted as a hero at the state party convention in Long Beach on Saturday morning, as he urged California Democrats to help defeat “that charlatan in the White House.” Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, appeared at the convention after leading the opening week of impeachment hearings against President Trump. He [...]

  • Roger Stone

    Roger Stone, Trump Ally, Found Guilty of Lying to Congress, Witness Tampering

    Roger Stone was found guilty on Friday in his false statements and obstruction trial. He faces up to 20 years in prison. The political operative and long-time confidant of President Donald Trump was convicted by a federal jury in Washington, D.C., of all seven counts against him, including witness tampering and making false statements. After [...]

  • Marie Yovanovitch

    Trump Attacks Former Ukraine Ambassador During Impeachment Testimony

    President Donald Trump lashed out at the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine as she testified on Friday morning in the House impeachment hearings. Marie Yovanovitch, who was removed from her post in May, testified that foreign policy toward Ukraine had come under the sway of foreign corrupt interests. She said she felt personally threatened by [...]

  • Career Foreign Service officer George Kent,

    TV Ratings: Fox News, ABC Draw Big Impeachment Numbers

    The first day of the impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump drew over 13 million total viewers across the broadcast and news networks combined. Fox News’s coverage from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. drew the highest total viewership of any network, averaging around 2.9 million sets of eyeballs. MSNBC followed in second with 2.7 million [...]

  • Career Foreign Service officer George Kent

    Impeachment Hearings: Bill Taylor Testifies About 'Alarm' Regarding Ukraine Aid

    Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testified on Wednesday that he became increasingly alarmed as it became clear that U.S. military aid was conditioned on launching investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and the 2016 election. Taylor and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state, were the first witnesses called to [...]

  • Patrick Whitesell and Ari Emanuel WME

    Endeavor PAC Goes Quiet as Candidates Reject Corporate Cash

    In February 2017, Hollywood was gripped by a spirit of resistance to the Trump administration. Endeavor bosses Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell pledged to do their part to fight back by organizing a political action committee. The committee, Endeavor Action, took in almost $300,000 in 2017 and 2018, and distributed about half that money to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content