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‘I just didn’t like one decision he made,’ Donald Trump picks on FCC chairman Ajit Pai at White House Diwali bash

Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, got a reminder of the time he had Donald Trump really upset. Trump had reacted angrily to FCC’s rejection of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media in July.

world Updated: Nov 14, 2018 13:30 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
President Donald Trump talks with Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, during a Diwali ceremonial lighting of the Diya in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Washington.
President Donald Trump talks with Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, during a Diwali ceremonial lighting of the Diya in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Washington.(AP)
         

As President Donald Trump called out Indian American officials ranged behind him at the White House Diwali event Tuesday, he usually had a word or two of encouragement for them. For most of them, at least.

Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, got a reminder of the time he had the president really upset. Trump had reacted angrily to FCC’s rejection of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media in July.

Trump had slammed the FCC’s decision as “sad and unfair” and, more strongly, “disgraceful.”

Trump chose the Diwali event to once again express his disappointment, though he did not name the proposed deal specifically. “Ajit, where’s Ajit? Huh,” he said looking for Pai among the crowd of Indian Americans standing behind him.

“Come here, Ajit,” he said to the chairman when he spotted him. “I just didn’t like one decision he made, but that’s all right,” he added, as the audience broke into laughter.

“Not even a little bit. But he’s independent.”

Watch | ‘Indians are very good traders, negotiators’: Trump at White House Diwali event

The FCC is an autonomous body even though it comprises officials nominated by the president of the day. Pai, for instance, was named commissioner by former President resident Barack Obama. Trump promoted him to the top position.

Sinclair is a conservative television giant which had hoped to extend its reach to 70% of American households with the acquisition, according to reports at the time. Trump had supported the move, and was very upset when the FCC turned it down in a unanimous vote of the four-member commission.

“So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune,” he had vented on Twitter. “This would have been a great and much-needed Conservative voice for and of the People. Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast get approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!”

Undeterred by the president’s outburst, Pai had defended the FCC decision. “I stand by our decision,” he had said during a congressional hearing the next day.

This was not the first time Pai had gone against the president. In 2017, he had subtly rebuffed Trump’s call for revoking the licence of TV news channels for broadcasting “Fake News” — anything critical of the president, in other words.

“I believe in the First Amendment,” the chairman had said at a public event, adding his agency “does not have the authority to revoke the licence of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast”.

Trump did not remember that one, or chose to overlook it. It was a Diwali celebration after all.

First Published: Nov 14, 2018 11:32 IST