FCC Again Denies Chicago-Milwaukee TV License Challenges

The Federal Communications Commission has dismissed a second Petition for Reconsideration opposing the license renewals of eight Chicago (IL) area and 11 Milwaukee (WI) area television stations.

Chicago Media Action and Milwaukee Public Interest Media Coalition argued in their respective petitions to deny that the television stations serving the Chicago and Milwaukee markets failed to present adequate programming relating to state and local elections during the last four weeks of the 2004 election campaign, and submitted, as support, a study analyzing programming on the five highest-rated commercial television stations in the Chicago and Milwaukee markets. The 2007 FCC staff letter denied these allegations on the basis that CMA and MPIMC failed to provide evidence that the licensees exercised their editorial discretion in bad faith. In their respective petitions for reconsideration, CMA and MPIMC alleged that the staff was incorrect in concluding that it did not have the authority to review the broadcasters' programming decisions, and that it failed to consider the numerical data contained in the study attached to the petitions to deny. They submitted an additional study which they claimed provided further evidence of a marketwide failure to broadcast sufficient coverage of elections and government in 2006.

The staff reaffirmed that the Commission does not generally question the editorial discretion of a broadcaster, but that the editorial decisions of a broadcaster may be reviewed where such discretion is exercised in "bad faith;" affirmed its earlier determination that the petition and attached study did not demonstrate that television programming in Milwaukee and Chicago was generally unresponsive; and found the updated study was insufficient to alter this determination as it only covered news programming on the major network affiliates during the early and late evening news broadcasts.

In this Second Petition for Reconsideration, CMA and MPIMC cite the 2008 release of the Enhanced Disclosure Order, arguing that the FCC's decision is "premised on the value of collecting information which the staff erroneously held was irrelevant to its public interest determination." The various oppositions filed by broadcasters in Chicago and Milwaukee generally argue that the Second Petition for Reconsideration is repetitious and procedurally improper, and that the Enhanced Disclosure Order relied upon by CMA and MPIMC did not place any quantitative programming obligations on broadcast television licensees.

The staff conclude that there is nothing in the language of the Enhanced Disclosure Order that indicates an affirmative restraint on licensee programming discretion.


More important than people realize.

suewilson on January 12, 2010 - 4:39pm.

In my documentary about media issues, Broadcast Blues, I follow the case of Tampa Bay Reporter Jane Akre. While working at WTVT , she and her husband Steve Wilson uncovered a cancer threat in the milk supply from Bovine Growth Hormone being injected into cattle. Fox News Roger Ailes ordered the station not to air that story, and the station spent the next many months trying to force the reporters to distort the story, to cross the line from fact into fiction. They refused, and they were fired. So she filed a whistleblower case, and won. The judge told the jury she could only win if she proved the station had deliberately engaged in News Distortion.

Fox News appealed, and won on the grounds that while there is an FCC rule against news distortion, there is no law against it! (see this story online at www.broadcastblues.tv )

But the story doesn't end there. Akre filed a petition to deny WTVT's license. She heard NOTHING for more than two years, not even a postcard acknowledging her petition. Finally, she was notified through a third party that her petition to deny had been denied (the FCC never even had the courtesy of responding to her.) The FCC said it was unclear whether news distortion had occurred, and in any case, they would not be bound by a state court's decision. (This all in the film, too.)

So I called the FCC to find out how many petitions to deny they have on file, and when's the last time they denied a station's license. They told me they do not keep that data.

Think they are taking petitions seriously?

In screenings we have had of Broadcast Blues across the country, this is the one issue that is really making the public mad. People are writing the FCC about this, and want to see change.

It is time to remind the FCC who they are working for.

Sue Wilson
Broadcast Blues

suewilson on January 12, 2010 - 4:28pm.



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