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  Today, the US Senate is expected to confirm Tom Wheeler as chair of the Federal Communications Commission, the federal agency tasked with protecting the public interest in all things media, particularly over our public airwaves.
   One of the first questions Wheeler's FCC will have to (reluctantly?) decide: Is Talk Radio the same as "bonafide news"?  
    If the FCC redefines editorial opinion as "news," it will sound the death knell for truth in journalism as we know it. A Pew study revealed that already, nearly a quarter of the population believes that talk radio is in fact "news." That's a scary statistic – and one we can't afford to let grow, or Rush Limbaugh will be equated with Walter Cronkite.
    Read, learn, share, and sign our petition.  Tell the FCC: Talk Radio is NOT Bonafide News!

                                      (A version of this article originally appeared in

   Today, the U.S. Senate is likely to confirm Tom Wheeler as the new Chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the federal agency tasked with protecting the public interest in all things media, particularly over our public airwaves.
   One of the first questions Wheeler's FCC will have to (reluctantly?) decide: Is Talk Radio the same as "bonafide news"?

   More than three quarters of the American public say no, according to Pew Research, and one would think an agency sworn to protect the public interest and its airwaves would agree with that vast majority. But will Wheeler choose to put the public interest first, or will his FCC continue to simply turn a blind eye, as the agency has done since the Reagan administration?
   This "bonafide news" question has its roots in an urgent complaint filed by the Media Action Center (MAC) at the FCC in the middle of the 2012 Scott Walker gubernatorial recall campaign in Wisconsin. Two huge local AM radio stations (WISN and WTMJ) were actively promoting candidate Walker on their local talk radio programs for about 160 minutes a day, every day, even using our publicly-owned airwaves to recruit volunteers for the Walker campaign. But neither station would allow a single supporter of the other candidate (Democrat Tom Barrett) on their shows.
   Such selective private censorship over our public airwaves violates not only the First Amendment - by denying certain individuals free speech - but also the "Zapple Doctrine," a little known FCC rule (also called the quasi-equal opportunities rule) that requires stations to provide comparable time for supporters of both political parties when it is requested.
   With assistance from MAC, Wisconsin citizens filed their complaint on May 24, 2012, expecting to have the matter resolved before the 2012 general election. But nothing happened.
   MAC next filed a legal petition to deny the operating license of WTMJ. That finally forced WTMJ attorneys to respond, and respond they did --- with a Hail Mary maneuver, asserting, among other things, that their talk radio shows (which use the airwaves with biased political intent, including the use of racist comments) are actually "bonafide news."
   Historically, lawmakers understood the need for a firewall between political rhetoric and real news reporting, because the "bonafide news" exemption was ensconced in the 1934 Communications Act. ("Bonafide news" programs get the exemption so they can report on candidates' events as they occur.)   It remains the law to this day, and WTMJ, despite the content they actually provide over our airwaves, is now attempting to exploit that provision for all that it's worth.
   However, just because that restriction is built into the law does not mean the FCC will enforce or obey it. (For example, on issues of the lack of women and minorities having access to radio licenses, and of allowing radio and TV stations and newspapers in the same town to have the same owner, as we reported back in 2011, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has twice remanded the FCC to listen to the public and act in the public interest. The FCC pretends to listen, then moves ahead with its industry-friendly agenda anyway, which puts them back into the courts to be remanded yet again.)
   So perhaps it is no surprise that one year --- and six elections --- after the initial Wisconsin complaint, the FCC has still failed to act. (In fact, the agency initially denied receiving both the MAC complaint and the petition to deny, until the Media Action Center very publiclysent them proof of delivery.)
   Enough. "We the People" are tired of waiting patiently for the FCC to do its job. The people of Wisconsin cannot afford to go through yet another campaign season with giant radio stations illegally promoting one political party over another (and Wisconsin is not alone in this bullying broadcast behavior.)
   And on the issue of "bonafide news," if the FCC does what it normally does --- that is, cave in to industry desires --- we can say goodbye to any firewall between true journalism and propaganda over our public airwaves. The blurring between fact and opinion will go unabated, and Rush Limbaugh will be featured in journalism textbooks alongside Walter Cronkite.


The good news is that three quarters of us DO understand the difference between opinions and news, so we have time to turn back the tide.
   It starts with this petition. Please sign it and share it with others: Tell the FCC: Talk Radio is NOT Bonafide News.
   We'll deliver the petition the new FCC Chair Wheeler upon his expected Senate confirmation. We will see what he does, and we will act accordingly.
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Comment Preferences

  •  Done! (4+ / 0-)

    Excellent diary!  We too often forget to focus on the FCC.  They have tremendous power.

    "If you can't take their money, eat their food, drink their booze and then vote against them, you have no business being in DC."

    by Betty Pinson on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 09:49:39 AM PDT

  •  This is more "Fairness Doctrine" stuff (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Who'd want this?  This would lose in court on the first pass.  ...Radio Stations should be able to broadcast what they want.  ...just like Newspapers, television stations, websites, etc.

    I'm not defending Right Wing Radio, but this is not the way to respond to it.

    Красота спасет мир --F. Dostoevsky

    by Wisper on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 09:50:01 AM PDT

    •  fairness doctrine? where? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      how is this about the fairness doctrine?

      The FCC must use its power to draw a clear distinction between fact and opinion in order to protect the public's access to "bonafide" news on our public airwaves. Safeguarding the public interest is the FCC’s sacred obligation.
      FCC Commissioners: Please stand up to the media corporations that want to control what "We the People" can hear on our public airwaves. Don't allow them to make a mockery of America's First Amendment by conferring "bonafide news" status on talk radio, or by granting entertainers like Rush Limbaugh equal status with legitimate news reporters.
      would the bill maher show ever be called news? the daily show? RW talk radio is clearly one party propaganda- there needs to be a way to end this nightmare.

      good luck to us having any fact-based discussions about any major issue as long as that talk radio monopoly keeps getting a free speech free ride to short circuit our democratic feedback mechanisms, dominate local politics for one party, and launder think tank propaganda for the 1%.

      let stations broadcast what they want but limbaugh is not on 600 stations and hannity on 500 blasting the country with coordinated think tank propaganda because their listeners prefer the lies and hate - it is because the 1%'s  agents bought up a monopoly and in most parts of the country there are no free alternatives for politics while driving or working. and they protect their monopoly.

      those stations are licensed to operate in the public interest but they almost unanimously broadcast global warming denial (a national security threat) and a whole lot of other lies as news and facts- what the fuck is that?

      This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

      by certainot on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 12:39:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Fairness (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        is was the stupid policy that if a radio show had one side of an issue, they were obligated to cover the other side.  Thankfully that got revoked.

        Why the hell would we want the government refereeing content about what is or is not fair and balanced?  Let broadcasters put on whatever content they want and let the listeners decide.

        The Zapple Doctrine is a left over appendage from that old mindset that people are trying to say is still in place despite the overall fairness doctrine being formally shit-canned two years ago.  

        Yes it is technically on the books since it wasn't covered by the revocation.  But if this was ever actually argued in court, it would lose.  With good reasons, the First Amendment being one.

        If people didn't like Rush Limbaugh they'd turn him off.  If he didn't make money the stations would drop him (as the Flush Rush campaign is adeptly proving).  

        To try and use some vestigial remnant of an old content regulation from an era with very limited media is pathetic.  In today's world with Radio, HD radio, Satellite Radio, Podcasting, Streaming, Broadcast Television, Cable Television, On-line Video, Blogs, Websites, Smart Phone Apps, and everything else we have and have not yet thought up... this is a stupid role for government to even attempt to play.

        Красота спасет мир --F. Dostoevsky

        by Wisper on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 12:52:44 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  SCOTUS is on Our Side (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          You are correct, this will end up at the Supreme Court.  Luckily, SCOTUS is on our side.  

          In Red Lion Broadcasting v FCC (referenced in the article re the first amendment,) the court made two key decisions about the first amendment regarding broadcasting.  

          (a) The First Amendment is relevant to public broadcasting, but it is the right of the viewing and listening public, and not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.

          and more germain to our argument:

          (b) The First Amendment does not protect private censorship by broadcasters who are licensed by the Government to use a scarce resource which is denied to others.

          When radio stations deny one entire political party access to microphones during campaigns, they are committing private censorship.  

          And given recent rulings by the Roberts Supreme Court upholding the Scarcity Doctrine , we believe we will prevail with our argument.

          •  Sorry...we disagree then. (0+ / 0-)

            a) Red Lion was based on the idea of scarcity within the media marketplace and thus treated Radio as a primary media outlet for the general public.  This has been so watered-down by technology in the 44 years since Red Lion was decided as to be laughable.

            b) Red Lion found that the FCC has a right but not an obligation to impose any kind of content requirement (be it Fairness or Zapple) since radio spectrum is a public asset and that it can modify or abandon these requirements at its own discretion. At best this will get kicked back to the FCC, which already deliberately revoked Fairness and can not be expected for a second to have any hesitation on scrapping Zapple.

            c) 15 years after Red Lion, the SCOTUS ruled in FCC v League of Women Voters that Congress can not forbid editorials on publicly funded stations and openly suggested that the prevalence of media suggested the lack of any further need for government regulation of content.  ...and that was in 1984!  The year of the 1st Mac, 2 year after the first Commodore 64 and only 3 years after MTV launched on this new-fangled thing called Cable TV.

            We've revoked the Fairness Doctrine, the Political Editorial Rule, the Personal Attack rule, and Congress even passed the Broadcaster Freedom Act specifically blocking these types of things.

            Good luck with your case, if you manage to get it to the SCOTUS.  You and I just have different opinions on what kind of ruling we should both want and expect.


            Красота спасет мир --F. Dostoevsky

            by Wisper on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 03:18:50 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Swiss Cheese (0+ / 0-)

              Sorry, the Broadcaster Freedom Act was never passed, only introduced amidst much fanfare:

              While the Fairness Doctrine, Political Editorial Rule and Personal Attack Rule have indeed been revoked, none were ever found in violation of the First Amendment.  In fact, the latter two were only revoked because of inaction by the FCC (typical.)

              Regarding scarcity, the Third Circuit Court of appeals on July 8, 2011, ruled the following:

              Deregulatory Petitioners ask us to overturn the scarcity doctrine. That doctrine establishes that - In light of [their] physical scarcity, Government allocation and regulation of broadcast frequencies are essential ... We continue to decline [Deregulatory Petitioners'] invitation to disregard precedent ... The abundance of non-broadcast media does not render the broadcast spectrum any less scarce. The Supreme Court's justification for the scarcity doctrine remains as true today as it was in 2004 --- indeed, in 1975 --- many more people would like to access the [broadcast spectrum] than can be accommodated.

              We agree with the FCC that the rules do not violate the First Amendment because they are rationally related to substantial government interests in promoting competition and protecting viewpoint diversity.

        •  the RW radio monopoly is the biggest censor in the (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          country in the sense that it is ubiquitous, dominates talk radio, is well protected, and tries, often successfully, to exclude competition.

          it is also a censor-by-threat in that it is used to intimidate those who would speak truthfully about issues like weapons of mass destruction.

          If people didn't like Rush Limbaugh they'd turn him off.
          no. as i mentioned above, they have a monopoly. it's not about turning them off. in most parts of the country there are NO free alternatives for politics while driving or working (free in the sense that all old cars came with AM radio). that's a bit of right wing propaganda. in this case of such domination of a medium there must be some govt intervention to ensure 'competition' - especially relative to free public airwaves from stations licensed to operate in the public interest. in most parts of the country the only alternative is silence or sports or music. that's not an alternative to political speech. the last 25 years is testimony to the fact that this talk radio monopoly makes real democracy impossible.
          If he didn't make money the stations would drop him (as the Flush Rush campaign is adeptly proving).  
          very few stations have dropped him. if this was about market forces he would be relegated to 50 stations , mostly in the south. that's more right wing garbage. the fact is they may drop him and it would be good business sense to drop him but they are NOT dropping him yet. he is point man for a  RW think tank propaganda operation that has made trillions for the 1% the last 25 years by selling wars, deregulation, tax breaks, global warming denial, etc- it's free advertising for the GOP on public airwaves, not news, and the by ignoring that fact the left has made the  biggest political mistake in history.

          the idea that this coordinated corporate megaphone needs to be treated as an expression of free speech by individual political entertainers is absurd. like calling corporations people. the RW radio monopoly is  great example of money (they bought up the radio stations)= free speech.

          if it wasn't a coordinated monopoly you would have a point.

          This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

          by certainot on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 02:19:53 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  This, however, is not Fairness Doctrine (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          This is an entirely different concept.  The Zapple Doctrine is an FCC doctrine that requires "... a station to provide time to the supporters of one candidate if the station provides time to the supporters of another candidate in a political race."

          How is this different from the Fairness Doctrine?  This does not require a specific show to provide the counterbalancing time.  It is a requirement on the station itself, since it is the station, and not the show, that is using a common public resource (the RF spectrum).  So a station, in providing hours of effectively free advertisements and support for a candidate can not keep proponents of the other side from using the public airwaves they have licensed for presenting their positions.

          In this case, by trying to claim that their talk shows are bona-fide news shows, the stations are trying to circumvent that doctrine, and provide effectively free advertising and support to a candidate in such a way that the candidate need not disclose the donation.  The stations could do this if they were on cable TV (which is not directly using a public resource), but FCC rules regarding public airwaves are more constraining on the restraints that a broadcaster may put on opposing speech.

          In short, our current system and philosophy is creating a country of a few million overlords and 300+ million serfs.

          by Laughing Vergil on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 02:46:51 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Undisclosed donation? (0+ / 0-)

            THATS the argument we're making now?  

            a) that would need to be made to the FEC not the FCC, and

            b) thats even weaker.

            Every constraint on broadcasters on opposing/political/balanced speech has lost under scrutiny and the courts have found that the FCC is legally entitled to modify and/or abandon any of these constraints as it sees fit.  Fairness Doctrine, Political Editorial Rule, Personal Attack rule, etc. all gone.  And the Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2009 specifically prohibits them from coming back,

            Why would we want government regulated speech like this?  Stupid right wing speech is countered with better speech... not finagling some way to get the government "shut that whole thing down".  

            Красота спасет мир --F. Dostoevsky

            by Wisper on Tue Jun 18, 2013 at 03:26:08 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

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