Mar 10, 2017

Democrats target FCC chief over press freedom questions

Robin Groulx / Axios

Democrats are stepping up their questions about FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's views on press freedom, a new line of criticism as Pai rolls back agency rules they supported. The Democratic members of the Senate Commerce Committee said in a letter they are concerned that at a hearing this week Pai wouldn't say directly whether he agreed with President Trump that some media outlets are the "enemy of the American people."

More than once, Pai said he didn't want to get involved in a political debate broader than the FCC, but reiterated his support for the First Amendment. The letter shows this isn't an issue Senate Democrats are ready to let go:

"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."

What Pai says: Asked about the letter, an FCC spokesman pointed to a Pai statement from 2016 where he said that "newspaper reporters continue to do important work throughout our country each and every day."

"Chairman Pai continues to believe that," the spokesman said. "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."

Pai pledged at the hearing to run an agency independent of the White House.

Why this matters:

  • Pai is up to be reconfirmed by the Senate for another term on the commission. The Democratic lawmakers said in their letter that his answers to the press freedom questions in their letter "will inform our ongoing consideration of your renomination for an additional five-year term on the FCC."
  • Even though the president appoints the FCC Chairman, the agency is supposed to be independent. Questioning an FCC chairman's autonomy from the White House is a way to paint their policies as politically motivated. It's a criticism conservatives know well: they argued that Pai's Democratic predecessor, Tom Wheeler, was in the pocket of the Obama administration.

What to watch: How Democrats handle Pai's renomination, and if their broader concerns seem to be gaining traction. The Democrats behind a letter want an answer to their questions by the end of next week.

Go deeper

Coronavirus updates: Market ends worst week since financial crisis

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The stock market ended its worst week since the financial crisis, prompting the Fed to release a statement. Meanwhile, the WHO warned that countries are losing their chance to contain the novel coronavirus and raised its global risk assessment to "very high" Friday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has killed more than 2,860 people and infected more than 84,000 others in over 60 countries and territories outside the epicenter in mainland China. The number of new cases reported outside China now exceed those inside the country.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 6 hours ago - Health

California coronavirus: Latest case has no recent history of international travel

Gov. Gavin Newsom. Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

A new case of the novel coronavirus in California was announced on Friday after Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that 33 people had tested positive for the virus, noting the risk to the public remains low.

What's new: An adult woman with chronic health conditions in Santa Clara County who "did not recently travel overseas" or come into contact with anyone known to be ill was confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus on Friday by CDC and California Department of Public Health officials.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 7 hours ago - Health

Big video game conference delayed amid coronavirus concerns

Photo: GDC

Next month's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco became the latest tech event to be cancelled or postponed amid growing concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The big picture: A growing number of events are being scrapped, including Mobile World Congress and Facebook's F8 developer conference. Some, like the giant SXSW event in Austin, insist they are moving forward.