In his most recent display of opposition to press coverage, on Wednesday President Donald Trump threatened to revoke television station licenses for media companies that report on him critically.
In an essence, the threat alludes to Trump trying to shut down media companies – taking particular aim at the National Broadcasting Company, NBC.
With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2017
NBC reported secretary of state Rex Tillerson called the president a "moron," which Tillerson did not deny.
Then, on Wednesday NBC broke the story about the reason why Tillerson said it.
According to three people who were in the room, Trump said he wanted America to have about ten times the number of nuclear weapons.
As the meeting broke up, the "moron" statement was made.
The president tweeted the information about him wanting such an increase in the U.S.' nuclear arsenal was “fake.”
Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a "tenfold" increase in our U.S. nuclear arsenal. Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC = CNN!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2017
HOW LICENSING WORKS
There is no license for NBC because the FCC doesn't license networks, it licenses stations.
Of the 236 NBC stations in the country, only 12 are actually owned by NBC.
The other 224, including 9NEWS, are owned by other companies as NBC affiliates.
To challenge a license, as the president suggests, the timing must take place when an individual station’s license comes up for renewal.
KUSA’s license isn't up until 2022, which is after the next presidential election.
The other consideration when it comes to the president’s suggestion is the First Amendment - which protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
That's why the FCC has limited rules regarding what can be said and shown on television.
There is a rule against actual fake news - however, the FCC said it would need to see "evidence of the direction to employees from station management to falsify the news."
And without the proper evidence, the FCC says it "will not intervene."
The report that upset Trump was not made up, according to the network and the journalists.
The journalists were instead citing sources who want to stay anonymous to protect their jobs.
REGARDLESS, THE NEWS GOES ON
Even if there was a way to suddenly take away NBC station licenses, journalists don't need a license to report the news.
The only thing requiring a license is broadcasting over the air so audience members can pick up the airwaves with an antenna.
Efforts to take that away would be pretty negligible since stations could still show television news without needing a license in a variety of other places, including cable, satellite and digital platforms.
There is no single license for NBC – or any other national television network - there are hundreds of licenses for all the individual stations.
The FCC can intervene if stations make up false news on purpose - which is something the Verify team has never seen in any newsroom.
When it comes down to it, a license is only good for reaching audience members by antenna.