Donald Trump has recently indicated a willingness to challenge the licenses of "NBC and the Networks".

Does he actually have any power to do so himself? If not, can he reasonably influence others who do have that power?

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    It would wind up in the courts, and he would probably get his ears slapped back over it. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 18:22
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    @PoloHoldSet my understanding is that it could never end up in the courts because NBC does not in fact have a license.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 7:25
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    Any court worth its salt would throw out the decision to revoke the license as blatant censorship. I expect that even the most hardcore Republicans would be against it as well Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 18:04

4 Answers 4


The traditional networks were (and still are, I presume) broadcast as radio transmissions from stations either owned by the network or affiliated with them. The FCC issues licenses for that.

However, the FCC has to have a very good reason to revoke a broadcast license, more than an aggrieved president. Any such action would be subject to the judgment of a court, and would have to adhere to the laws governing broadcast transmissions.

The pure cable/streaming networks like CNN, on the other hand, don't need an FCC broadcast license as they aren't broadcasting radio signals.

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    "The pure cable/streaming networks like CNN, on the other hand, don't need an FCC broadcast license..." Just out of curiosity: Do they maybe need something else that could be taken away? Something equivalent to a license? Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 10:08

NBC reportedly has no direct ownership of a broadcast facility. As such it has no broadcast license. Thus the president cannot revoke it.

If they did have a broadcast license, it would be an abuse of power for the president to cause its revocation directly or indirectly because he is not in the normal chain of review and decision of such a matter.

Further, if he did it without following ordinary procedure, including hearings prior to revocation, that would be a violation of due process.

Most importantly, his motives, which appear to be to censor political speech would be a prohibited basis for action even if revocation where otherwise possible. Behavior of the sort is the hallmark of a dictator. It is wrongdoing of a truly grand nature that cuts at the very heart of what it means to live in a free society.

What if his charge that they were making up the news was true? Well, the Sun once plead in that in open court as a defense to a civil lawsuit and the government did not come for them.

The law has not fully developed the furthest reaches of the balancing act of interests between the right to be free of slander and the right to speak without restraint. A case such as this might define that furthest reach.

Or is slander really involved at all. Whether Kelly called Trump a moron is a claim about Kelly, not Trump. Further, it might entitle NBC to have Trump submit to a mental exam as part of discovery in litigation. A great many professionals have suggested Trump would not like the outcome of such an exam.

  • @CGCampbell, Re "Please read the help center": the cited article does not appear to address whether an official's general competence, (i.e. fitness for office), conflicts with SEP's guidelines.
    – agc
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 12:06
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    Re: "NBC reportedly has no direct ownership of a broadcast facility.": Wikipedia has a list of current NBC owned stations.
    – agc
    Commented Oct 21, 2017 at 12:13

No, the president cannot revoke licenses himself - it seems like it has to go through the FCC.

He could, however, influence them to do it; but that seems like an extremely unlikely scenario.

This article goes into it a bit.

Facts stated in the article:

  1. NBC the network doesn't have a "license." Individual stations do. Some of those are owned directly by NBC's parent company, Comcast, but even if the FCC revoked those licenses it wouldn't stop the network from producing content.

  2. There's no way the FCC can say, 'Saturday Night Live needs to go off the air,'" said Harold Feld, senior vice president at advocacy group Public Knowledge.

  3. The FCC is an independent agency. Its chairman, Ajit Pai, is designated by the president. But he's not beholden to the White House's demands like executive agencies.

  4. The president does have the ability to pressure the FCC chair. Trump's comments Wednesday are an example. It's still highly unlikely that anything would happen to the licenses, Feld said. "Trump can't order the FCC to do it, the FCC wouldn't want to do it, and even if they did poke around they couldn't really do anything other than poke around and demand documents based on what the precedents are," he said.

  5. The FCC does have leverage over NBC owner Comcast, Feld noted. But any move to pursue the company would be out of step with Pai's industry-friendly agenda thus far

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    Links are good, but tend to break. You could improve this answer by summarizing the reasons why this scenario is so unlikely.
    – Philipp
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 7:56
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    Networks do not have licenses; only their individual affiliate broadcast stations do.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 2:00


NBC and other the major networks do not each have a single license that could be revoked.

NBC is a network that produces a lot of content and distributes it to each individual broadcaster. But NBC does not actually broadcast. Broadcasting is done by each individual station over a frequency on the public airwaves, hence the license of each station to use the public airwaves.

Each individual station in each market has their own broadcast license and their own transmitter. An action by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would have to be against each station separately and independently.

Even if these licenses were revoked (unlikely), most viewers receive shows over cable networks, which do not use publicly owned airwaves. An FCC license is not required to send a signal over a privately owned network of cables.

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