Fox Stations Face New D.C. Fight

Beltway group to challenge renewals of two station licenses 6/04/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

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Watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility
and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has long had
a beef with News Corp., and a belief that the Federal
Communications Commission is not taking
action swiftly and prudently enough on
it. Their solution: Open up a second front in
the battle. The CREW crew seems likely now
to go after the licenses of News Corp.-owned
stations WTTG and WDCA in Washington.

CREW has asked the FCC to yank all Fox
licenses, alleging that News Corp.’s Rupert and
James Murdoch don’t have the character qualifi
cations to hold station licenses. Meanwhile,
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) has been hammering
the FCC on the Hill to look into revoking
or not renewing all the licenses.

CREW, however, does not hold out much
hope. “Julius Genachowski is not taking the
matter as seriously as he should,” Melanie Sloan, CREW executive
director, said of the FCC chairman. By challenging the
renewal, she said, “the FCC has no choice but to consider the
character qualifications.” The FCC could initiate its own investigation,
“but that’s not going to happen,” Sloan added.

According to a Fox source, the two D.C. station licenses
came due at the beginning of June, though actually they have
been in renewal limbo for eight years, thanks to previous unresolved
petitions to deny renewal. New petitions aren’t due until
September, so the fusillade may have to wait.

Sloan said CREW’s challenge will come “sometime in the
summer. We plan to do a thorough job.”

The challenge comes in the wake of the hacking scandal in
Britain that has reinvigorated critics of News Corp. such as
Lautenberg. The senator has been pushing the FCC to rule on
a petition to deny the renewal of WWOR New York (Secaucus,
N.J.) over issues of serving, or not serving, New Jersey viewers.

Fox has 27 stations, with five renewals
pending, not including the two coming due
in Washington, according to the source, who
added that Fox expects much of the focus to
shift to the D.C. stations. The group CREDO
Action has already asked the FCC to revoke
all of Fox’s licenses, including the two in D.C.

For those Beltway stations, the eight years
of renewal delays have to do with FCC questions
about indecency and educational children’s
television requirements. Indecency
complaints have held up numerous station
license renewals—several hundred by some
counts—while the courts decide whether the
FCC’s indecency enforcement regime is legal.
Because the commission can’t resolve the kids TV challenge
separately from the indecency petition, it is likely the indecency
challenge is the one truly holding up renewal. But even when
the Supreme Court resolves the indecency issue one way or
another—as is expected in the next few weeks—the D.C. stations
will face the CREW challenge on qualification grounds.

Asked if the United Church of Christ is considering renewing
its kids TV challenge, UCC policy adviser Cheryl Leanza
said that, at this point, and after eight years of inaction on the
previous petition, the license renewal process is a “charade.”

“License renewal is supposed to be the time when a broadcaster
absolutely must be held accountable to the public on a
wide variety of matters,” Leanza said. “But it requires the FCC
to do its job, and the FCC has abdicated its responsibility.”

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