Saturday, December 1, 2012

FCC Policy Division Media Bureau: Incompetent or Corrupt?

VOICES has been following Sue Wilson and the Media Action Center (MAC) requests to the FCC to enforce the Zapple Doctrine.  WISN-AM and WTMJ-AM in Milwaukee aired 24/7 pro-Scott Walker programming and, despite requests to give opponent Tom Barrett’s supporters some equitable air time, refused.

Mark Berlin, at FCC’s Campaign Law office in Washington DC has been telling different stories to different people when asked about a complaint MAC filed in May, 2012 (.pdf), and then a petition to deny renewal of broadcast licenses based on violations of the Zapple Doctrine


Berlin has sent the following statement to a third-party inquiry over the matter, denying that anyone has filed a complaint in the past 8 years – not a true statement.
For the Zapple Doctrine to be invoked, the supporters of the opposing candidate would have to specifically ask the station for air time.  If the station refused, the supporters could then appeal to the FCC, but no such Zapple complaint has been made in at least eight years.  Therefore, there was no violation of the Zapple Doctrine by the stations here, and even if there were, that would not be a basis for the denial of a license renewal, since programming has nothing to do with licensing in the first place.
Berlin repeated the same misrepresentations to VOICES in a phone conversation later the same week.  Curiously, Berlin sent this acknowledgement of Media Action Center’s Zapple complaint earlier this spring:
I have brought this to the attention of Bobby Baker and Hope Cooper of this office, who will be dealing with the complaints.  I’m leaving for the day in a few minutes and will be off tomorrow in advance of the Memorial Day weekend.  I’ll be back in the office on Tuesday, but you should be corresponding to Hope Cooper, if you need to.  Sending e-mails to our Campaignlaw@fcc.gov site will reach her.

Mark Berlin
Given that others are contacting the FCC about this and similar complaints, even giving Berlin the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he “forgot” the entire affair, the first reply posted above (For the Zapple Doctrine to be invoked…) is disingenuous at best.

The record clearly shows that May 24th of this year, Berlin received and acknowledged documents from MAC titled "Formal Complaint to FCC re: WISN and WTMJ" and "addendum:  Formal Complaint to FCC re: WISN and WTMJ" (NOTE:  Aan article Wilson included in her complaint from Insider).

In July, 2012, MAC copied Berlin in on an email sent Hope Cooper.  Then last month, MAC sent Hope Cooper an email entitled "Update and support documents" which included more than a thousand signatures from the public supporting the complaint.  Wilson just put the petition back online so more people can sign it, as well as a support letter from major groups whose membership exceeds a half a million people supporting our complaint about the Zapple violations.

Berlin should know that the media is increasingly aware of the hypocrisy of an oversight agency that claims there are no complaints when the record shows there are.  Legal Editor Steven J. J. Weisman of Talker’s Magazine published an article about the Zapple Doctrine and its application to WISN/WTMJ last June titled “The FCC rules on this matter may have a significant effect on the upcoming Fall national and state elections.”

If Berlin does not know about this -- he should; if he does not know about it, he should not issue misleading statements.  He should know better than to claim no one pays attention and that no one expresses concerns.

Berlin cannot continue to swat down legitimate complaints by misrepresenting that no one brings them forward.  As Sue Wilson experience is that not only is the public being ignored by the FCC and Mr. Berlin, but their actions are grossly negligent of their duties and this is costing donors to MAC real money, wasting Wilson's and MAC volunteers' time, and unfairly and unjustly skewing the broadcast dialog to the right.  As Ms. Wilson explains:
It appears that no one at the FCC has paid any attention whatsoever to an effort that cost thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of effort. 

And now I find myself in the position of having to defend myself to those who have trusted my representation that I filed such a Zapple case.  My reputation is being unfairly impugned.
Since Mr. Berlin at the FCC is misleading those that contact his agency, it is appropriate that Mr. Berlin, who works as a public servant in an important federal oversight agency, promptly correct the misinformation and/or disinformation that he is directly responsible for.  Anything less is a dereliction of his duties as a public employee.

But more importantly, it is time for the FCC to stop stonewalling and issuing false statements to duck responsibility.  Berlin has no right to undermine the rule of law and empower large corporate media interests that corporations that operate on the public airwaves to contaminate the public airwaves with hate.

The truth is easy to show here – the FCC has been repeatedly contacted within the past several months.  The FCC has falsely represented that no such contacts have been made.  The FCC is using these false statements to dismiss legitimate inquires and prevent the enforcement of broadcasting laws.

The FCC is not the last resort here, but MAC has tried to work through the system – it is not in Mark Berlin nor the FCC’s best interest to force additional action, because the record clearly documents that certain agents at the FCC are refusing to provide oversight despite statues, rules, and, and laws that demand otherwise.  They are actually publicly proclaiming they will not do their jobs as outlined in their job descriptions.

The public is being harmed in 2 ways:
  1. Not only does a dysfunctional abuse of the public airwaves continue unabated, but
  2. The FCC is complicit with allowing 2 corporate media giants, WISN-AM and WTMJ-AM to deny a the public a voice on the public airwaves.

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