In a response to Senate Democrats that was short on elaboration, Republican FCC chairman Ajit Pai said he did not believe the media was the enemy of the people and promised to exercise his media regulatory authority impartially.
"As Chairman of the FCC, I take my oath to defend and protect the Constitution seriously, and the preservation of the First Amendment is the foundation of that commitment," Pai said.
That came in response to Senate Democrats concerned by his answers in an oversight hearing regarding President Donald Trump's attacks on the media and characterization of them as the enemies of the people.
At a March 8 FCC oversight hearing, when asked by Senate Democrats whether he agreed or disagreed with President Donald Trump's characterization of the media as the enemies of the American people, Pai would not say yes or no, saying he did not want to get into that political debate and deferred to the White House about what he might have discussed during meetings with the President.
In response to a letter from Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Pai also said that he would not act in a manner that stifles or penalizes free speech "even if requested by the Administration." He also said he did not commit to any member of that Administration to do so in exchange for getting the FCC post and committed to respect the "absolute independence" of his agency from the White House.
Pai gave one-word "yes" or "no" answers to the six questions posed but did elaborate slightly on his answer to the Trump "enemy" comment.
"I should note that at the hearing, I was asked if I agreed with the President that the media was the 'enemy' of the people. However, the President has made clear that he was referring to 'fake news,'" he said. "As I stated at the hearing, these comments are part of a larger political debate into which I will not be wading."
The President has indeed taken aim at fake news, but the category has appeared to be a broad one, encompassing critical stories from mainstream media outlets.
For example, on March 18, the President tweeted: "Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel…"
Then Monday added: "Just heard Fake News CNN is doing polls again despite the fact that their election polls were a WAY OFF disaster. Much higher ratings at Fox."
“I am glad to read Chairman Pai’s recognition that free media is vital to our democracy," said Benton Foundation Executive Director Adrianne B. Furniss. "While the Trump Administration continues to treat the press as the ‘opposition,’ Chairman Pai says he will respect the First Amendment. I hope that additional federal officeholders and Members of Congress also live up to their oath to defend and protect the Constitution.”