Tag Archives: &#039fake

Facebook should be liable for 'fake news,' British lawmakers say

Tech firms like Facebook should be made liable for "harmful and misleading" material on their websites and pay a levy so they can be regulated, British lawmakers said, warning of a crisis in democracy due to misuse of personal data.

Facebook has increasingly become a focus of the media committee's inquiry into "fake news" after the data of 87 million users was improperly accessed by British-headquartered consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

The cost of higher privacy standards will hit Facebook's profit margins for several years, the firm said on Wednesday, wiping over $ 120 billion US off its share price, and the company is coming under concerted regulatory scrutiny in Britain, the United States and the European Union.

"Companies like Facebook made it easy for developers to scrape user data and to deploy it in other campaigns without their knowledge or consent," Damian Collins, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said in a statement.

"They must be made responsible, and liable, for the way in which harmful and misleading content is shared on their sites."

The committee's interim report and Collins's comments were embargoed until July 29. Other news organizations broke the embargo after a copy of the report was published online by Dominic Cummings, who ran the officially designated Vote Leave campaign in the EU referendum.

Collins ripped Facebook for allowing Russian agencies to use its platform to spread disinformation and influence elections.

"I believe what we have discovered so far is the tip of the iceberg," he said, adding that more work needs to be done to expose how fake accounts target people during elections. "The ever-increasing sophistication of these campaigns, which will soon be helped by developments in augmented reality technology, make this an urgent necessity."

Augmented reality has the ability to show convincing audio or video of things that did not really happen, such as public figures saying things they did not actually say.

The standards of accuracy and impartiality which tech companies are held to could be based on regulator Ofcom's rules for television and radio, the lawmakers said.

The committee began its work in January 2017, interviewing 61 witnesses during 20 hearings that took on an investigatory tone not normally found in such forums in the House of Commons.

The report criticized Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg for failing to appear before the panel and said his stand-ins were "unwilling or unable to give full answers to the committee's questions."

'Our democracy is at risk'

One of the committee's recommendations is that the era of light-touch regulation for social media must come to an end.

Social media companies can no longer avoid oversight by describing themselves as platforms, because they use technology to filter and shape the information users see. Nor are they publishers, since that model traditionally commissions and pays for content.

"We recommend that a new category of tech company is formulated, which tightens tech companies' liabilities, and which is not necessarily either a 'platform' or a 'publisher,'" the report said. "We anticipate that the government will put forward these proposals in its White Paper later this year."

The committee also said that the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) needs more money so it can hire technical experts to be the "sheriff in the Wild West of the internet." The funds would come from a levy on the tech companies, much in the same way as the banks pay for the upkeep of the Financial Conduct Authority.

The ICO earlier this month fined Facebook for the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by Donald Trump's campaign in 2016, has denied its work on the U.S. president's election made use of the data in question.

"Our democracy is at risk, and now is the time to act, to protect our shared values and the integrity of our democratic institutions," the committee said.

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CBC | World News

Trump says interview critical of British PM on Brexit is 'fake news'

U.S. President Donald Trump says a U.K. tabloid published "fake news" when it "left things out" and only reported his critical comments of the U.K. prime minister's handling of Brexit.

Trump responded to the Sun article, published on Thursday, as he and Theresa May held a joint news conference, following talks at her official country residence in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire county, England, on Friday.

The pair spoke to reporters a day after Trump arrived in the U.K. for a four-day visit, coming off a contentious NATO gathering in Brussels.

Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump hold a joint news conference following their meeting at the U.K. leader's official country estate, Chequers, on Friday in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire county, England. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Earlier, he spoke of having a "very, very strong" working relationship with May, and she said the U.S. is Britain's "longest-standing and deepest security and defence partner." She also credited Trump for pushing NATO partners to increase defence spending.

Trump had told the Sun that May's Brexit blueprint would "probably kill" any bilateral trade deal with the U.S. At the news conference, he addressed the prime minister and said, "Whatever you do is OK with us … just make sure we can trade together."

Trump also told the paper he felt "unwelcome" in London after learning of a huge protest that went ahead on Friday, featuring a giant balloon flying over Parliament, depicting him as an angry baby in a diaper.

"I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London," he said.

Demonstrators fly a blimp portraying U.S. President Donald Trump, in London's Parliament Square, to mark the U.S. president's visit. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

Trump, in the interview given before he left Brussels for the U.K., accused May of ruining what her country stands to gain from the Brexit vote to leave the European Union. He said her former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, would make an "excellent" prime minister, speaking just days after Johnson resigned his position in protest over May's Brexit plans.

Trump, who has compared his own election to the June 2016 referendum in which a majority of British voters supported leaving the EU, complained, "The deal she is striking is a much different deal than the one the people voted on."

He also told the tabloid that he'd shared advice with May during Britain's negotiations with the EU and she ignored it.

Trump says Johnson would make great PM

Details from Trump's interview with the paper became public as Trump was attending a black-tie dinner with May to welcome him to Britain with pomp and pageantry.

As for Johnson, Trump said: "I think he would be a great prime minister. I think he's got what it takes." He added, "I think he is a great representative for your country."

CBC's Margaret Evans takes a look back at some of Trump's more contentious statements on the U.K.

The National takes a look at how U.S. relations with the U.K. have gotten frosty since Trump took office. 3:25

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement after the tabloid interview was published, saying Trump "likes and respects Prime Minister May very much.

"As he said in his interview with the Sun she 'is a very good person' and he 'never said anything bad about her.' He thought she was great on NATO today and is a really terrific person," Sanders wrote.

Trump says he doesn't feel welcome

On Thursday night, hundreds of demonstrators chanted outside the U.S. ambassador's residence where Trump was staying on the outskirts of London. On Friday, tens of thousands of protesters marched through London against Trump.

Trump blamed the hostility in part on Mayor Sadiq Khan, who gave protesters permission to fly the six-metre-tall balloon depicting Trump as an angry baby.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May hosted dinner for the U.S. President Donald Trump and business leaders as part of the pair's official visit to the U.K. As Trump was attending the dinner, details from a new Trump interview criticizing May became public. (Ben Stansall/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Trump also blamed recent terrorist attacks in the city on Khan, who is a Muslim. The president claimed Europe is "losing its culture" because of immigration from the Middle East and Africa.

'I just think it's changing the culture, I think it's a very negative thing for Europe,' Trump tells U.K. news conference 2:05

"Allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a sham," he said. "I think it changed the fabric of Europe and, unless you act very quickly, it's never going to be what it was and I don't mean that in a positive way."

During Friday's news conference, the two leaders expressed differing views on the benefits of immigration to Europe.

Trump said immigration has been "very bad" for Europe and reiterated that it's is changing the culture of the continent. May said "immigration has, overall, been good" for the U.K., contributing to its society and economy, but added that border controls were important.

Warm welcome at palace

In contrast to the president's sharp words, Trump's first event in England was an oasis of warm greetings at an evening reception at Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill, the larger-than-life British leader cited by the president as a model of leadership. That was just one of several helicopter rides on the agenda for Trump, whose staff opted to keep him largely out of central London and the swarms of demonstrators.

Trump's Marine One departure from the ambassador's residence was met by jeers from demonstrators banging pots and pans, and another pack of protesters lined roads near the palace. Some of their signs read "Dump Trump," `'Lock Him Up" and "There Will Be Hell Toupee." Police worked overtime, their days off cancelled.

Trump's visit to the U.K. has so far seen both the pomp of a black-tie dinner and large protests as critics speak out against his policy and presidency. (Hannah McKay/Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Trump was greeted at the palace by May, whose government has been rocked by resignations from ongoing tumult over Brexit.

The outdoor arrival ceremony at Blenheim — Trump wore a tuxedo and Melania Trump a butter-yellow, chiffon, off-the-shoulder gown — was a grand affair marked by a military band in bearskin hats, hundreds of business leaders in black tie and gorgeous setting sunlight.

Head-snapping pivot at NATO summit

The mood was far less jovial in Belgium earlier in the day.

During his 28 hours there, Trump had disparaged longtime NATO allies, cast doubt on his commitment to the mutual-defence organization and sent the 29-member pact into a frenzied emergency session.

Then, in a head-snapping pivot at the end, he declared the alliance a "fine-tuned machine" that had acceded to his demands to speed up increases in military spending to relieve pressure on the U.S. budget. But there was little evidence other leaders had bowed to his wishes on that front.

Trump claimed member nations had agreed to boost their defence budgets significantly and reaffirmed — after days of griping that the U.S. was being taken advantage of by its allies — that the U.S. remains faithful to the accord.

Allies dispute Trump claims

"The United States' commitment to NATO remains very strong," Trump told reporters at a surprise news conference following the emergency session of NATO members.

Protesters gathered outside the entrance to Blenheim Palace ahead of the scheduled dinner. (Andrew Matthews/Associated Press)

Neither Trump nor NATO offered specifics on what Trump said he had achieved. French President Emmanuel Macron quickly disputed Trump's claim that NATO allies had agreed to boost defence spending beyond their existing goal of two per cent of gross domestic product by 2024.

"There is a communique that was published yesterday; it's very detailed," Macron said. "It confirms the goal of two percent by 2024. That's all."

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Trump says the U.S. is not against breastfeeding, calls New York Times story 'fake news'

The U.S. opposed a World Health Assembly resolution to encourage breastfeeding because it called for limits on the promotion of infant formula, not because of objections to breastfeeding, President Donald Trump tweeted Monday.

Calling it "Fake News," Trump criticized a New York Times story reporting that U.S. officials sought to remove language that urged governments to protect, promote and support breastfeeding, along with language calling on policymakers to limit the promotion of food products, such as infant formula, that can be harmful to young children.

The Times reported that the U.S. effort this spring during the United Nations-affiliated world health meeting was largely unsuccessful and that most of the original wording remained.

Trump wrote, "The U.S. strongly supports breastfeeding but we don't believe women should be denied access to formula. Many women need this option because of malnutrition and poverty."


The Times reported that the U.S. delegation embraced the interests of infant-formula manufacturers.

Government doctors and scientists have long called attention to the health benefits of breastfeeding, both in economically advanced countries and developing nations.

A 2011 surgeon general's report concluded that "breast milk is uniquely suited to the human infant's nutritional needs and is a live substance with unparalleled immunological and anti-inflammatory properties that protect against a host of illnesses and diseases for both mothers and children."

Caitlin Oakley, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, said it's "patently false" to portray the U.S. position as "anti-breastfeeding."

The administration also denied that U.S. officials had threatened trade sanctions in the debate over the breastfeeding resolution.

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Health Canada's 'fake news?' — It's not fake but it's not news either

This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. 

If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.


Is it “fake news” if Health Canada pays for articles to be distributed to newspapers across the country without disclosing that the content was produced by the federal government?

Under the headline “Feds’ Fake News Cost $ 577K” an Ottawa-based news site Blacklock’s Reporter revealed that it’s common practice for some federal government ministries to place government-sponsored content in community papers through a private content provider called News Canada Inc.

Health Canada has paid News Canada Inc. $ 490,000 over the last two and a half years, an amount that represents “a small percentage of the department’s total expenditures on communications,” said Health Canada spokesperson Eric Morrissette in an email.

The stories look like ordinary news articles. “How to protect yourself and others in the face of a growing opioid crisis” is one example of Health Canada sponsored content.

Health Canada says it spends a small percentage of its total communications budget on News Canada articles.(Kelly Crowe/CBC)

The content is not fake because it’s fact-based, but it’s also not “news,” according to Ryerson journalism assistant professor April Lindgren, who is leading a Ryerson research program on local news in Canada.

“If it’s a story about the opioid crisis, does it contain any voices questioning whether the federal government is doing enough to counter the opioid crisis? I don’t think so. If it’s a story about food inspection and food safety, is there anything in the piece about the adequacy of government health inspection systems?”

“One of the main characteristics of news is that it’s independently produced and to think that Health Canada writing about itself is producing timely, independently verified material is just not on,” Lindgren said.

The articles don’t disclose that the content was paid for and supplied by a federal government department.

“The media comes to the website and picks up the content if they choose to,” the company told CBC News in an email.

The News Canada email stated that more than 2,600 media outlets use their content, including 67 daily newspapers, 505 community newspapers, 365 radio stations and 129 magazines.

‘Sign of the times’

The content is free and the only requirement is that News Canada’s name must appear at the bottom or top of the article.

“It’s another sign of the times as newsrooms shrink or disappear,” said Lindgren.

Although it’s free content, the community newspapers are not entirely happy about the situation either. They’d prefer Health Canada buy an advertisement from the local paper rather than a pay a third party to distribute government content.

“This is the great irritant to us,” said John Hinds, executive director of the trade association representing Canada’s community newspapers, News Media Canada.

“The federal government used to advertise a lot in community newspapers as a way of communicating with citizens, particularly around areas like health and safety,” said Hinds. “But now they use this ‘earned media’ system where they pay the content company to distribute the material rather than taking out an ad in a local paper.”

“With few exceptions, such as for the occasional public notice, Health Canada does not directly advertise in community newspapers,” Morrissette said.


To read the entire Second Opinion newsletter every Saturday morning, subscribe.

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Putin was 'good' and Obama was 'bad': Former Russian trolls reveal online work to create 'fake news'

When St. Petersburg journalism grad Vitaly Bespalov answered an online ad for a writer in 2014, he thought the gig at Russia’s Internet Research Agency might help his fledgling career.

As he quickly learned, what he really signed up for was a job as a paid internet troll.

“They pose as people who are not really them,” he told CBC News at his apartment in St. Petersburg. “By the second or third day, it was clear where I had landed and what this was actually.”

Last month, U.S. special prosecutor Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals who worked at the so-called “troll factory” in St. Petersburg, accusing them of interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. The allegations include fabricating news and using false identities to sow discord in the United States ahead of the vote.

Trump Russia Probe

A Facebook posting by a group called Being Patriotic is shown above. A U.S. federal grand jury indictment says the Facebook group was created by Russians who promoted and organized two political rallies in New York, including one on July 23, 2016, called Down With Hillary! (Jon Elswick/Associated Press)

Bespalov left long before that period — after just three months on the job.

“It was really bothering me what I was doing. I knew I had stayed to get more information [on the operation] but this feeling of disgust stayed with me.”

He says he’s sharing his story now with the hope that it makes people more aware of how the “fake news” business works and in the hope that the operation will be shut down.

Bespalov says he was one of roughly 200 employees at the nondescript, low-rise St. Petersburg office building, far removed from the dazzling palaces of the czars that are the city’s major tourist attractions.

Trash-talking Ukraine

He says he worked on a floor devoted to trash-talking Ukraine.

“I had to find 20 articles from Ukraine and rewrite them with the same tone as they would be written by our mass media.”

Russian state media routinely denies its direct involvement in the conflict while denigrating those who support Ukraine’s government.

In 2014, Ukrainian protesters helped overthrow the country’s pro-Russian leader, triggering Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Bespalov says any stories the troll factory could produce that made Ukrainian soldiers look bad were encouraged, especially items involving dead children.

“One example: we saw a news story that some militiamen were hiding in the school and suddenly it was being shelled. Some children died.

“We simply took and wrote that Ukrainian soldiers shot the children and killed them. That’s it. No hesitation,” Bespalov says.

The stories were posted to a fake news site that had a Ukrainian internet address but was secretly run out of the St. Petersburg location, with the idea of making it appear as though many Ukrainians sided with the Russia view of the conflict.

Different targets

The troll facility allegedly had several different areas devoted to different regions of the world. Bespalov says a team on the top floor was dedicated to posting fake news on Facebook sites.   

Merat Photo

Marat Minidyarov worked at the St. Petersberg troll farm in 2015. (Pascal Dumont/CBC)

Another group at the troll factory wrote stories and comments for news sites inside Russia. Marat Minidyarov, 30, says he ended up with that group.

Minidyarov says in late 2014 he was working at the St. Petersburg youth hostel and met a guest who told him about a place he could make good, quick money.   

After a brief interview, Minidyarov says he was hired.

‘Never had your own opinion’

“Every morning there was a list and the topics about what you were supposed to write,” he told CBC News in St. Petersburg. “You never had your own opinion, you wrote [what] was written there.

“Putin is always good, always good, always good,” he says. “And Obama was bad. The world was black and white.”

His job was to write in the comments section of Russian news sites and counter anything negative about the Russian government.

“One hundred and thirty-five comments a day. Twenty people a shift. Two shifts day and night. Can you imagine how many comments are coming every day on the internet?”

Both former trolls say they were paid well — about $ 1,000 Canadian a month — all of it in cash.   

Troll farm

The Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg was in business from 2013 until at least 2017 in this building. A security guard told CBC News the building is now ’80 per cent empty.’ Russian media report the troll operation has moved to a new location. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC)

U.S. authorities have indicted Yevgeny Prigozhin and allege he owned and operated the troll farm. Often referred to as Putin’s chef, he’s the food caterer for the Kremlin and other Russian ministries.

Prigozhin denies any connection to the troll operation.

The Kremlin’s official response to the trolling allegations is that there’s no connection between the facility and the Russian government.

Neither Minidyarov nor Bespalov say they ever saw Prigozhin — or witnessed any direct link with the Kremlin.

“It’s hidden,” says Minidyarov, “so you can’t say for sure. But when I switched on my TV, it was absolutely the same news [on state television]. So why is it the same?”

Bespalov says he is certain that however deeply buried that link is, the troll farm was doing the bidding of the Russian government.

“[Putin] doesn’t see this as problem. In his ideology and view of the world, this is an equivalent step to the so-called ‘negative actions’ that the West is doing against Russia.”

Harassment and intimidation

Both men say they have been harassed and intimidated.

Bespalov was mocked on a Russian news program and portrayed as being a hard-partying opposition supporter. The program played video of him wearing a T-shirt of an opposition candidate and dancing in a nightclub.

In late February, Minidyarov says police tracked him down at a friend’s apartment and brought him in for questioning over an allegation of making a bomb threat.   

He says the allegation was entirely bogus.

Bespalov says the troll factory was just beginning to have an impact before he left. Its greater influence came later,  when the English language department was set up.    

“In the Western audience, I think they are not used to these black games. They are more naive.”

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Donald Trump calls report he ordered Robert Mueller's firing 'fake news'

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday dismissed as “fake news” a New York Times report that he ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last June, but backed down after White House lawyer Don McGahn threatened to resign.

The newspaper reported Thursday that Trump demanded Mueller’s firing just weeks after the special counsel was first appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Trump denied the report, without addressing the specific allegation, as he arrived Friday at the site of the World Economic Forum annual summit in Davos, Switzerland.

“Fake news, folks. Fake news. Typical New York Times fake stories,” Trump told reporters.

McGahn said he would not deliver the order to the Justice Department, according to the Times, which cites four people familiar with the request by the president.

Trump argued at the time that Mueller could not be fair because of a dispute over golf club fees that he said Mueller owed at a Trump golf club in Sterling, Va. The president also believed Mueller had a conflict of interest because he worked for the same law firm that was representing Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.

Peter Carr, a spokesperson for Mueller, did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday night. Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer working on the response to the Russia probe, declined comment Thursday night.

Trump Tapes

Sen. Mark Warner, vice-chairman of a Senate intelligence committee panel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, says any interference in Mueller’s probe by Trump would be a ‘gross abuse of power.’ (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

The response from Democrats was nearly immediate. Sen. Mark Warner, vice-chairman of the Senate select committee on intelligence, said that if the report in the Times is true, Trump has crossed a “red line.”

“Any attempt to remove the special counsel, pardon key witnesses or otherwise interfere in the investigation would be a gross abuse of power, and all members of Congress, from both parties, have a responsibility to our Constitution and to our country to make that clear immediately,” Warner said.

Trump to be interviewed?

The report comes as Mueller moves ever closer to interviewing Trump himself. The president said Wednesday that he would gladly testify under oath — although a White House official quickly said afterward that Trump did not mean he was volunteering to testify.

Last June, when Trump was considering how to fire Mueller, the special counsel’s probe had not progressed far, at least not in public.

At that time, he had yet to call on any major witnesses to testify and had not yet issued any charges or signed any plea deals. But that would change just a few months later, when federal agents would arrest former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and ultimately turn him into a co-operating witness.

manafort-papadopoulos.jpg

Paul Manafort, left, and George Papadopoulos are among the Trump campaign officials who have been indicted by Mueller’s team. (Reuters, LinkedIn)

Since then, Trump has largely stopped talking about explicitly trying to fire Mueller, but has instead focused on attacking news reports and accusing Mueller and his team of being biased and unable to complete a fair investigation.

The latest evidence the president has cited was a string of text messages from a former agent on Mueller’s probe, which show that agent vociferously opposing the president. But Mueller swiftly removed the agent, Peter Strzok, from his probe after learning about his texts.

Trump touched on his long-running critique of the news media during an event later on Friday in Davos, During a question-and-answer session with the forum’s founder, Trump said it wasn’t until he became a politician that he realized “how nasty, how mean, how vicious and how fake the press can be.”

His comment prompted some boos and hisses in the room.

Trump singles out ‘nasty press’ during Davos forum0:45

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump adviser Rick Gates were charged by Mueller with criminal conspiracy related to millions of dollars they earned while working for a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian political party. And former national security adviser Michael Flynn agreed to cooperate with investigators in a plea deal revealed two months ago. Flynn was charged with lying to the FBI.

Mueller’s investigators have been focusing their inquiry on questions surrounding Trump’s firing of Flynn and also his firing of former FBI director James Comey. They have slowly been calling in more witnesses closer to the president himself and, recently, began negotiating the terms of a possible interview with the president.

On Thursday, Trump’s lawyer said more than 20 White House employees have given interviews to the special counsel in his probe of possible obstruction of justice and Trump campaign ties to Russian election interference.

‘Fake news, folks. Fake news. Typical New York Times fake stories.’– Donald Trump, U.S. president

John Dowd, Trump’s lawyer, said the White House, in an unprecedented display of co-operation with Mueller’s investigation, has turned over more than 20,000 pages of records. The president’s 2016 campaign has turned over more than 1.4 million pages.

The number of voluntary interviews included eight people from the White House counsel’s office.

An additional 28 people affiliated with the Trump campaign have also been interviewed by either the special counsel or congressional committees probing Russian election meddling. Dowd’s disclosure did not name the people nor provide a breakdown of how many were interviewed only by Mueller’s team.

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Trump suggests challenging TV network licences over 'fake news'

U.S. President Donald Trump suggested challenging licences for NBC and other broadcast news networks following reports by NBC News that his secretary of state had called him a “moron” after a discussion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

“With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!” Trump, a Republican, wrote in a post on Twitter on Wednesday.

Trump and his supporters have repeatedly used the term “fake news” to cast doubt on media reports critical of his administration, often without providing any evidence to support their case that the reports were untrue. Trump kept up his criticism of the media in an appearance with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying: “It is frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write.”

In a tweet late on Wednesday, Trump said: “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!”

Any move to challenge media companies’ licences, however, would likely face significant hurdles. The Federal Communications Commission, an independent federal agency, does not license broadcast networks, but issues them to individual broadcast stations that are renewed on a staggered basis for eight-year periods.

Comcast Corp, which owns NBC Universal, also owns 11 broadcast stations, including outlets in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Dallas and Chicago. A Comcast spokesperson referred questions to NBC, which did not immediately respond. ABC, owned by Walt Disney Co, declined to comment. Shares in media companies fell, potentially reflecting concerns the war of words could worsen. Comcast was down 0.8 per cent, while Disney shed 1.4 per cent. CBS Corp fell 1.2 per cent and Twenty-First Century Fox slid 2.8 per cent.

Trump-Broadcast Licences

Comcast Corp, which owns NBC Universal, also owns 11 broadcast stations. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

Recon Analytics analyst Roger Entner called the market response a “short-term irrational knee-jerk reaction” and said Trump faced essentially insurmountable hurdles to getting licences pulled.

Gordon Smith, the chief executive of the National Association of Broadcasters, defended the media’s free speech rights. “It is contrary to this fundamental right for any government official to threaten the revocation of an FCC license simply because of a disagreement with the reporting of a journalist,” Smith said in a statement.

A spokesperson for FCC chair Ajit Pai did not immediately comment. 

‘Not how it works’

Numerous Democrats criticized Trump and urged Pai to denounce Trump’s comments. Senator Ed Markey wrote Pai on Wednesday asking him to “withstand any urges from President Trump to harm the news media and infringe upon the First Amendment,” a reference to the U.S. Constitution’s free speech and press freedom guarantee.

Democratic U.S. Representative Frank Pallone said Trump “seemed to threaten broadcasters’ licences only because he disagreed with their reporting. This threat alone could intimidate the press and lead to skewed and unfair reporting.”

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel responded to Trump by tweeting, “Not how it works” with a link to an FCC fact sheet. 

When reviewing licences, the FCC must determine if a renewal is in the public interest, according to an agency fact sheet on its website. The FCC said in the fact sheet it expects “station licensees to be aware of the important problems and issues facing their local communities and to foster public understanding by presenting programming that relates to those local issues.”

The agency does not issue similar licences for cable networks such as CNN and MSNBC, or regulate internet news or other websites. The FCC has said the First Amendment “expressly prohibits the commission from censoring broadcast matter” and that its role “in overseeing program content is very limited.”

In the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon and his top aides discussed using the FCC’s licence renewal process as a way of punishing the Washington Post for its coverage of the Watergate burglary that ultimately brought down his presidency.

NBC News has reported on tensions between Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and has said Trump sought a dramatic increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal during a meeting with national security advisers in July. NBC reported Tillerson made his “moron” comment after that meeting.

Trump on Saturday also suggested he should get “equal time” because of what he described as late-night television hosts’ “anti-Trump” material. The FCC’s equal time rules apply in limited cases to air time for political candidates and not to criticism of elected leaders.

Trump may have been referring to the “Fairness Doctrine” that was designed to ensure broadcasters present opposing viewpoints about public issues. Republican President Ronald Reagan’s administration eliminated it in 1987.

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