Trump threatens TV network licences over ‘fake news’

Donald Trump has attacked “partisan, distorted and fake” US TV networks, saying their licences should be revoked “if appropriate”.

The US President broadened his tirade after earlier hitting out at NBC, which reported that his secretary of state Rex Tillerson had called Mr Trump a “moron” after the pair discussed the US nuclear arsenal.

He tweeted:

The network’s coverage clearly still rankles with Mr Trump, as he also attack another NBC story:

And in a later message he kept up his attack, accusing US TV networks of being “partisan, distorted and fake”:

Mr Trump and his supporters have regularly used the term “fake news” to cast aspersions on media reports critical of his presidency, often without providing any evidence to support a claim that the reports are untrue.

The NBC report stated that vice president Mike Pence had to talk Mr Tillerson out of resigning from his post because of his issues with the Commander-in-Chief.

Mr Tillerson later denied he had wanted to quit, but pointedly refused to deny making the insult, saying he would not dignify “petty nonsense”.

His spokesperson, however, said the former oil executive would not use such language.

On Tuesday, Mr Trump tweeted that if reports of the insult were true, then he and Mr Tillerson should compare IQs; however, on Wednesday White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said he was “joking”.

Whether or not Mr Trump is also joking about NBC’s licence, he is unlikely to get his way, since licences are awarded to individual broadcast stations, rather than to the networks which own them.

Image:Mr Tillerson did not deny calling Mr Trump a ‘moron’

Comcast Corp, which owns NBC Universal, also owns 11 TV stations across the country.

Licences are renewed by the Federal Communications Commission on a staggered basis for eight-year periods.

The FCC has said the First Amendment “expressly prohibits the commission from censoring broadcast matter” and that its role “in overseeing programme content is very limited”.

Neither the FCC nor NBC have responded to the tweets, but Democratic senator Ed Markey urged FCC chairman Ajit Pai to “withstand any urges from President Trump to harm the news media and infringe upon the First Amendment”.

The First Amendment of the US constitution guarantees free speech and press freedom.

Senator Markey said: “It is inappropriate for the President to propose challenging broadcasters’ licenses because he disagrees with their coverage”.