By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the Federal Communications Commission told the U.S. Congress he did not agree that "the media is the enemy of the American people" and said he would act independently of the White House on media-related matters.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, whom President Donald Trump has nominated to a new five-year term as head of the body that regulates broadcast television, radio and other media outlets, made his comments in a letter dated Friday and released on Monday.
Pai, a Republican, had refused to say during a Senate hearing earlier this month whether he agreed with Trump's comments on the media.
In February, Trump tweeted: "The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @CNN, @NBCNews and many more) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people. SICK."
Trump's comments drew bipartisan criticism.
On March 10, 13 Senate Democrats sent Pai a letter, demanding that he respond to the questions about Trump and the media, saying, "Silence on the matter and refusal to take a stand against threats levied at the media is troubling."
In the letter, Pai said he had been asked during the hearing if he agreed with Trump that the media was the "enemy" of the people. Pai said Trump "has made clear that he was referring to 'fake news.'"
Pai, who has not yet come before the Senate for a confirmation hearing on his nomination to a new term heading the FCC, said he would regulate the media in an impartial manner and would not penalize free speech by television or digital media "even if requested by the administration."
A spokesman for Senator Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the Commerce Committee, declined to comment on Pai's letter.
Pai said he would act independently of the White House and would report to Congress attempts by White House officials to influence decision making with respect to media interests.
Trump has clashed with media outlets on numerous occasions, especially cable networks like CNN. Trump has often taken to Twitter to label stories he disagreed with as "fake news."
During his election campaign, Trump said AT&T Inc's $85.4 billion bid to buy Time Warner Inc, owner of CNN and the Warner Bros movie studio, was an example of a "power structure" rigged against him and U.S. voters and should not be approved. "It's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few," he said during the campaign.
Since his election, Trump has not commented on the merits of the deal.
Pai said last month he does not expect the FCC to review the transaction.
In his letter, Pai reiterated his "strong support for the First Amendment rights of the media and all Americans" and said he has "consistently opposed any effort to infringe upon the freedom of the press and have fought to eliminate regulations that impede the gathering and dissemination of news."
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Leslie Adler)