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Free Speech vs. Public Interest: FCC Complaint Against WI Talk Radio Looms Large for Hannity and Limbaugh

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Unlike GMA or Howard Stern, these market leaders are not "morning shows" or talk, gossip, entertainment or comedy shows, they are almost entirely political and have long influenced the public on elections, wars and every major policy issue by cherrypicking "news", guests and commentary. 

FCC officials discussing this case recently revealed a key factor is determining and evidencing "political intent", for example the express desire to influence elections. Yet again, the proof is ample - from these talk hosts themselves, from their promos and their executives. Jerry Bott, director of programming and operations at WISN radio in Milwaukee in his own words:

"Hosts on conservative talk radio affect public opinion by making a convincing case that conservative principles are powerful, proper, and effective.

This has an effect on public opinion in areas where conservative talk radio can be heard which, in turn, provides a fertile environment for conservatives seeking public office to be elected."

Rush Limbaugh was inducted as an "honorary member" of the Republican House Caucus after their 1994 landslide, confirming the talk host was the single most important contributor to their victory.

The Case For Propaganda is...More Propaganda

We've heard bellicose defense of the right to openly broadcast in bias, claiming the First Amendment trumps the public interest. Despite those calling for the right to be intentionally misinformed, the law says if it's over the publicly owned airwaves, they have to allow the full story to come out.

In filing FCC applications, broadcasters acknowledge that the privilege to use limited public bandwidth comes with a responsibility to allow opportunity for all major candidates to present relevant facts informing political affairs, and specifically to prioritize the public interest over their own interest. 

Today's personality-driven shows clearly include on-air electioneering, yet also claim exemptions carved out for "news interview" shows.

As Sue Wilson of the Media Action Center reminds us, there is a widespread, fundamental misunderstanding of how public airwaves can be used for political "free speech" with the largest talk hosts in the country flouting the Communications Act of 1934 (47 USC Section 315) or "Zapple Doctrine," which stipulates that in the 60 days prior to an election, broadcasters who provide airtime to one candidates' views must allow time for the other side if requested.

Over the decades, the FCC has refused to enforce this provision, and the public has been unaware, confused, misled or apathetic to the issue - until now. 

A bonafide "news interview" show, according to the law, must be "non-partisan, not supporting any candidates". This is cut and dry, folks.

Limbaugh and Hannity's broadcasts clearly segregate "news" reports on the hour from show content. But even if you buy that Hannity's cavalcade of conservative guests and lopsided caller selections somehow constitute balance, the veneer is shattered in the show's intro when they tout themselves as "The Stop Obama Express".

We've heard for years that right wing radio is under attack because the left cannot compete in the marketplace. This is a lie so bold, the right disproves it themselves every time the accuse the "mainstream media" of being "in the tank" for the left. It can't be both, can it?

Many contend that right wing radio is not as profitable as we think, nor a result of free market consumer choice, rather the partisan, pro-corporate voices we hear every day were installed in key markets in order to crystallize public opinion with political messaging. Here, Forbes confirms that Clear Channel's entire radio broadcasting division is but "a loss leader".

For starters, Fox News lost hundreds of millions, some $450 million in their first five years. The reason they were able to last and become profitable was because owner Rupert Murdoch's News Corp was willing to bleed so much money.

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(OpEdNews Contributing Editor since October 2006) Inner city schoolteacher from New York, mostly covering media manipulation. I put election/finance reform ahead of all issues but also advocate for fiscal conservatism, ethics in journalism and (more...)

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