Nuisance or nightmare, license challenges are activists’ new weapon against broadcasters.
In at least three markets, designated videotapers from local activist groups are right now recording the local TV news 24/7 on the top rated TV stations. A dozen or more potential license challenges may hinge on what they find. After election day, the tapes will be sent to the Alliance For Better Campaign headquarters in Washington, where an outside content analysis company will review them to determine how much local and regional election coverage has been aired by broadcasters.
If broadcasters are found wanting in the eyes of the alliance and their local partners, lawyers for the Alliance plan to help those local groups challenge the licenses of all the top stations in the market, claiming a market failure."You betcha," says Alliance President Meredith McGehee. And they aren't necessarily going to wait until those licenses come up for renewal. McGehee says the group has been talking with attorneys and the FCC about ways to challenge the licenses before their renewal cycle is up.
The Alliance considered just using the FCC renewal list and picking three markets where renewals are already imminent, but decided it needed to instead pick markets where it had the local infrastructure to tape and then follow-through with the challenge.
"Do we think we will succeed. In our wildest dreams, but we think that it is clear that stations have been llowed to operate with impunity. We don't blame them, they are doing what we would expect if you are going to be pursuing profit. The failure is that the FCC, with the compicity of Congress, has let them define the public interest for themselves."
The Alliance is just one of a number of groups looking to use the license renewal cylcle to
pressure the FCC into increasing its regulatory oversight of broadcasters.
Earlier this month, the Parents Television Council filed license challenges against two D.C. TV stations, Fox's WTTG and NBC's WRC, citing some 35 indecency complaints against them at the FCC that had yet to be acted on. The group promised there would be more challenges, citing its 25 grassroots groups across the country. Challenges must be filed by someone physically located in the market at issue.
In addition, the United Church of Christ has filed challenges against two other stations, Fox-owned UPN affiliate WDCA and Pax's WPXW (check) for education children's shows it argued weren't educational.