Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012

FCC Loses Complaints Against WTMJ and WISN

By Lisa Kaiser
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Well, this is hilarious.

I wrote about the Media Action Center’s challenge to the license renewals of WTMJ-AM and WISN-AM based on their alleged violations of the Zapple Doctrine. (Eric Von graciously allowed me to discuss this on his WMCS radio show this morning.)

But a curious thing happened while I was reporting the story.

I contacted the FCC for comment.

Turns out that they couldn’t confirm that they had received the challenge. I was shuffled through an alphabet soup of bureaus and departments at the commission and still could not get a confirmation. Someone else had it. They couldn’t find it. I’d have to file a Freedom of Information Act request to get it. They’d get right back to me—maybe. After Thanksgiving. Before my deadline. No, really, before my deadline.

You know what it’s like. (For what it’s worth, if you want a job without a whole lot of work duties, apply for one at the FCC. They don’t seem to do much besides hand off emails and phone calls to someone else. Well, the ones they don’t ignore, at any rate.)

So I contacted Sue Wilson, the head of the Media Action Center, to figure out what was happening with the legal challenges. She duly forwarded me a postal confirmation receipt showing that she had, indeed, mailed them and that, indeed, someone at the FCC had received them. She said that the FCC routinely “misplaces” communications from the public. It’s sort of a black hole of complaints, she said. (Watch her documentary Broadcast Blues for more on this matter.)

So my article was published yesterday in print and on the Shepherd’s website.

And lo and behold, I get a press release from the Media Action Center today stating that the FCC “misplaced” MAC's challenges to the license renewals of WTMJ and WISN. And the only reason that the FCC became aware of the complaints is because reporters contacted the commission.

Hilarious! (And predictable.)


 

FCC Misplaces Petitions to Deny Broadcast Licenses

to Milwaukee Radio Stations Who Gave $1 Million

Free Airtime to Walker Recall Campaign

 

MILWAUKEE – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) apparently has "lost" legal petitions filed to deny the licenses of 
Milwaukee radio stations WISN and WTMJ on November 1 for subsidizing the recall campaign of Gov. Scott Walker with about $1 million 
of free airtime while not allowing any supporters of his opponent Tom Barrett on the air.

The public interest group Media Action Center (MAC) was informed its license challenges will be delayed because the FCC cannot find the legal
 pleadings, even though the agency had signed a receipt accepting them earlier this month. The deadline for the FCC to respond was thought to be Dec. 1.

Sue Wilson, director of MAC, says it is only because reporters started calling the FCC asking questions about the license challenges that the problem 
came to light.  After sending Peter Doyle, Chief of the FCC Media Bureau's Audio Division, proof that the Office of the Secretary of the FCC had indeed 
signed for the documents, Doyle asked that she resend the documents this week.

"Mr. Doyle is working with us to accommodate our filings, but it is clear the FCC is more geared for working with corporate lawyers than the very public it is 
sworn to protect," said Wilson, who confirmed she carefully followed the instructions for filing Petitions to Deny on the FCC website.

"In my film Broadcast Blues," explained Wilson, "we documented how the FCC takes years to respond to Petitions to Deny, if there is any response at all.  The 
agency pays so little attention to them, it cannot say how many license challenges are pending before them, and the FCC does not even know when it last took away 
any station's license to broadcast for any reason.  The Petitions to Deny station licenses are the only means the public has to hold TV and Radio stations which are 
behaving recklessly accountable to the public interest, and we are standing up for our rights as the true owners of the airwaves."

MAC conducted a comprehensive study in May/June of 2012 – during the Scott Walker recall campaign – which clearly showed the two stations each gave supporters 
of Gov. Walker and the GOP about 80 minutes of free airtime daily on their local talk radio shows, while refusing any access to supporters of Mayor Tom Barrett 
and Democrats whatsoever.    

This, the challenge asserts, amounts to private censorship, which violates the First Amendment rights of those in the community who are denied access to the scarce 
publicly owned airwaves during campaigns.  It further states the stations willfully have violated existing FCC rules about comparable time, citing legal opinions 
from the Wisconsin Broadcasters' Association. 

"Broadcast stations have a unique duty to serve the entire public, especially during campaigns," explains MAC director Sue Wilson.  "When a radio station uses its
 giant microphones to cheerlead for candidates of only one political party, no matter which political party it may be, it violates the First Amendment rights and 
public trust of the entire community.

 

 

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