Trump blocks FCC member after row over free speech

Trump blocks FCC member after row over free speech

04 August 2020 | Alan Burkitt-Gray


President Donald Trump has blocked the nomination of a telecoms regulator who disagreed with him over freedom of speech.

Now Michael O’Rielly faces losing his role as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) after six years, even though the Senate commerce committee had approved his nomination for another term of office.

What seems to have annoyed Trump is that O’Rielly was opposed to an executive order signed by the president in May that limits the protection internet platforms companies have for third-party content posted on their systems.

Last week O’Rielly said in a speech that the US government had no role limiting free speech, thanks to the first amendment to the US constitution.

“We should all reject demands, in the name of the first amendment, for private actors to curate or publish speech in a certain way,” said O’Rielly in his speech.

“Like it or not, the first amendment’s protections apply to corporate entities, especially when they engage in editorial decision making. I shudder to think of a day in which the fairness doctrine could be reincarnated for the internet, especially at the ironic behest of so-called free speech defenders.”

Internet platforms are allowed to remove content, and Trump has been in a battle with some of them over a number of his controversial posts.

Reuters reported last week that Twitter called Trump’s executive order “a reactionary and politicized approach to a landmark law”.

Appointments to the FCC are political, with O’Rielly being one of the three representatives of the Republican Party, versus two Democrats. Both Democrats has said they will oppose Trump’s executive order, while chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, seemed cool, saying he will “will carefully review” Trump’s move.

With O’Rielly opposing the president’s stand, Trump now faces losing an FCC vote on the executive order.

But Washington gossip is also pointing to another possible motive: one member of the commerce committee was opposing the FCC’s decision to allow Ligado Networks to use radar and GPS spectrum for a low-power 5G network.