FCC chair: Trump hasn’t tried to intervene on Time Warner merger

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Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai told lawmakers on Wednesday that President Trump has not tried to influence his agency’s consideration of the AT&T-Time Warner merger.

In his reconfirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Pai was repeatedly grilled about Trump’s attitude toward the press and whether it has affected the FCC.

“I have not directly had any conversations with anyone in the administration with respect to media regulatory proceedings,” Pai said. “To the best of my knowledge, no one on my staff or in the FCC has indirectly had any such conversations as well.”

Democrats have expressed outrage over a New York Times story that reported that the White House was considering using the merger as leverage over CNN, which is a Time Warner subsidiary.

The White House has a long-running feud with CNN over its coverage.

Democrats also called on the committee to hold a hearing to examine the media landscape in light of Trump’s attacks on the press and the recent uptick in media consolidation moves.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) cited the pending merger between Tribune Media and Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative broadcasting outlet that owns local stations across the country and employs former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn as a political analyst.

That merger will require FCC approval. But Pai has already cleared a major obstacle by pushing through a rule that eases restrictions on media ownership, a move that was highlighted on Wednesday.

“The contrasting approach here creates the very real perception that the Trump administration would act to reward friendly coverage and punish negative coverage,” Udall said during the hearing.

When Pai last appeared before the panel in March, he was dodged questions about whether he agreed with the president’s statement that the press was the “enemy of the American people.”

He later clarified in a letter to the committee that he did not share the president’s view and voiced his support for freedom of the press — a view that he reiterated in his latest appearance.

“I have consistently stated that I believe … that First Amendment freedoms including the freedom of the press are critical,” Pai said during Wednesday’s hearing.

“If I were ever asked by anyone in the administration to take retaliatory action for instance in a media regulatory proceeding I would not do so.”

–This report was last updated at 8:02 p.m.

An earlier version misattributed a quote.

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