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The FCC - Actually Enforcing Its Own Rules?

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Many of us who tune into hourly newscasts on the radio will hear Fox News Radio or SRN News. Both offer news items which favor a conservative point of view; together they are paid to run on about 2100 radio stations nationwide.

Some of us may hear the Worker's Independent News Service, which provides factual news stories from a labor point of view; they are aired on about 200 stations nationwide, but there is a catch: instead of commercial stations paying WIN for reports, WIN must pay the stations to be heard.

Says Frank Emspak, Executive Producer at WIN, "For whatever reasons, commercial broadcasters have decided that conservative oriented newscasts, or newscasts that focus on businesses or business interests are "news." But most commercial broadcasters have also decided that newscasts that focus on unions, union interests or working people are not "news." The consequences are that newscasts like ours must pay broadcasters for the time."

As a result, Worker's Independent News spots are not subsidized by the stations' sales forces; it must sell its own advertising spots. Says Emspak, "When broadcasters decide that content they like is "news," they sell the ads, they raise the money and they characterize the content they like as "news."

It get worse: because WIN must pay broadcasters for time, the FCC requires stations to tell the listeners that WIN is a paid "advertisement," not "news," which undermines its credibility. The FCC just levied a hefty $44,000 fine against Chicago station WLS for failing to label WIN's factual news stories as "paid advertisements."

So, if the right wing Journal Communications gets its way at the FCC, WTMJ's Charlie Sykes (and by extension, Rush Limbaugh) will be considered "bonafide news" providers, but the Workers Independent News Service, which hires real reporters to ferret out facts for real news stories, will not.

It is an upside down world, but in conclusion, the FCC has some golden opportunities here to stand up for the public interest.

The agency could rescind the special newspaper/ broadcast ownership waiver it gave to Journal Communications, (and others, like Tribune Company's ownership of the LA Times and KTLA-TV,) thus sending the message that it recognizes having news content produced for Radio, TV and the only newspaper in one city by one corporation puts too much information control into the hands of too few.

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The FCC could yank the broadcasting license of WTMJ-AM radio for deliberately using our public airwaves as a propaganda tool for its favored political party.

The FCC could make a clear statement that talk radio is not the same as bonafide news. (Sign this petition to "Tell the FCC: Talk Radio is NOT Bonafide News.")

The FCC could change its rules preventing stations from labeling legitimate news organizations as "advertisements," just because they are forced to pay stations to be heard at all.

Should the FCC make any one of these potential actions, it would send a shudder through the broadcast news industry, and would have more impact than a dozen recently abandoned "Multi-market Study of Critical Information Needs" [PDF] studies ever could.

Will the FCC really act? At least its chair has started a conversation. Let's keep it going.

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Sue Wilson tells important stories which move politicians to act. The Emmy winning director of the media reform documentary "Broadcast Blues" and editor of SueWilsonReports.com, Sue recently founded the Media Action Center. Wilson was 1987's (more...)

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