Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Media Action Center Speaks On It: Revoking Broadcast Licenses for WISN & WTMJ

Randy Bryce and members of Media Action Center (MAC) held a press conference today in front of Milwaukee's high-power right wing squawk radio station WTMJ to announce a legal challenge filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that seeks to revoke the broadcast licenses of Clear Channel's WISN and Journal Communication's WTMJ.  Unlike citizen petitions, legal proceedings can deny the stations' right to broadcast to the greater community of Milwaukee, across most of eastern Wisconsin, and into most of Rep. Paul Ryan's district.

These stations gave Gov. Scott Walker free air time leading up to the June 5th recall and even denied ad buys to his opponent Tom Barrett. This violates a federal law known as the Zapple Doctrine.  (NOTE:  This is not related to the now defunct Fairness Doctrine)

After the jump, VOICES will share a transcript of Mr. Bryce's prepared statements which explain why MAC is making its demands, how these radio stations are abusing the public airwaves, and why FCC has no real choice but to honor this request.

VOICES originally covered this story at our blog last June and then the print-edition of our monthly newspaper last July.  Media Action Center spokesman Randy Bryce explained the situation today with following statement in front of WTMJ this morning:
We stand here today to announce that the Media Action Center, on behalf of citizens of the greater community of Milwaukee, is legally challenging the right of WISN and WTMJ radio to broadcast in our community.

Just like drivers are licensed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for the privilege of driving cars, radio stations are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission for the privilege of broadcasting. The stations must renew their licenses once every eight years. WTMJ and WISN's licenses to broadcast will either be continued or denied in just two weeks. We are asking the FCC to deny those licenses on grounds that they are willfully breaking existing FCC rules during political campaigns, and worse, they are violating the First Amendment rights of members of this community.

Last spring, during the Scott Walker recall, the Media Action Center Wisconsin monitoring team proved that the radio stations WISN AM and WTMJ AM each provided supporters of Scott Walker and the GOP with about 80 minutes in free airtime every Monday through Friday. But WISN and WTMJ refused to allow any supporters of Mayor Tom Barrett on the air at all.

Both WISN and WTMJ are violating the FCC's "quasi-equal opportunities" rule, otherwise known as the Zapple Doctrine. The Wisconsin Broadcaster's Association has legally advised the stations that in the 60 days prior to elections, if they give airtime to supporters of one major political party candidates, they must give time to supporters of the other major political party candidates. Both stations ignored this advice, which proves they are willfully ignoring FCC rules surrounding political campaigns.

Hosts and guests not only praised Walker while bashing Barrett, they encouraged people to vote for Walker, and even used the radio airwaves to recruit volunteers to work for the Walker campaign. This use of the publicly owned airwaves shows clear political intent which is a gross violation of FCC rules.

In effect, WISN and WTMJ subsidized the Scott Walker campaign to the tune of one million dollars, but would only allow supporters of Tom Barrett on the air if they paid for time.

Media Action Center made a formal complaint to the FCC about this on My 24th of this year, but the FCC has yet to respond. The FCC must respond to this now, as the final date for them to renew or deny these stations' licenses is December 1st, but as that is a Saturday, they must respond by December 3rd.

I have filed a legal declaration supporting this petition to deny the renewal of WISN and WTMJ's licenses.

The Scott Walker recall campaign lasted only 28 days. Over that time, I noted that Walker supporters – and only Walker supporters – were allowed on WISN and WTMJ's microphones to campaign for Scott Walker. I, (and many others, I might add,) exercised my rights under FCC rules to demand comparable time to support the other major political party candidate, Tom Barrett. I wrote the two stations no less than ten times each, demanding access to the airwaves to support Barrett. WTMJ denied my requests; WISN did not even bother to reply.

These stations are likely to claim they have First Amendment rights by airing whatever they wish. I am here to say WISN and WTMJ are violating my First Amendment rights by denying me access to the publicly owned airwaves during political campaigns. There is a term for what Clear Channel and Journal Communications is doing. It is called private censorship. That's something the United States Supreme Court has ruled broadcasters legally cannot do.

Let me quote from Red Lion v the FCC, which is the law of the land: "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."

We the people – all the people of the Milwaukee area, own those radio airwaves. For years, everyone in the community has known these two giant stations have been using our airwaves to cheerlead only for one political party. It's gotten so bad, Republicans like State Senator Ron Johnson have bragged that Milwaukee conservative talk radio is the big reason they are winning elections.

Up until now, this was just talk. But with the Media Action Center monitoring project, we have proved it.

WISN and WTMJ management clearly do not have the character to continue operating in our community.

FCC we are now looking to you. You have only until December 3rd to restore political balance to our publicly owned radio airwaves – for the next eight years.

FCC, deny these licenses and give them to new operators who will serve the interest of the entire community of Milwaukee.

We will continue to follow and report this story as more information becomes available. 
VOICES TV is working on a video report and we are monitoring the situation and will share new information and updates as they become available.

THANK YOU Sue Wilson, Randy Bryce, Andrew Rogers, and the entire MAC Team for your outstanding work in behalf of the Badger State and this nation's democracy!


Nomad said...

A good first step. Broadcast media (which should- but doesn't- include cable) should never have been auctioned off to the highest bidder. It was an essential public utility. The free flow of correct (or at least, not misleading) information is as important to the nation as the free flow of drinkable water is to a city.

In any case, Clear Channel will probably go under in the next couple of years anyway. In a wonderful twist of karma, The good ship CC has probably been sunk by .. Bain Capital.


Andrew Rogers said...

Thanks Voices for a great blog! We at Media Action Center-WI will keep you posted on how this story develops...