The FCC has dismissed a challenge to the license of Raycom's KWWL(TV) Waterloo, Iowa, and granted the station a new seven-year lease on life.
The license had been challenged over two station editorials that the petitioner said were motivated by undisclosed financial interest in the issues, and in one cast, was delivered without sufficient time for reply. The FCC concluded that it had little power to interfere with news decision-making, that private and public interests were not mutually exclusive, and that there was insufficient evidence that granting the license would, on its face, be inconsistent with the public interest.
One editorial was called "The Digital Age of Television" and advocated maintaining the 2009 hard date for the digital switch. The other opposed a ballot initiative creating a local telecommunications utility commission.
Raycom, said petitioner Richard C. Young, did not disclose that it had a financial interest in not extending the time during which it would have to simulcast analog and digital, and did not disclose that it had a financial relationship with a cable provider who would be directly affected by the creation of the utility commission.
In addition, Young said, the editorial on the utility commission came the night before the election, not providing the other side sufficient time for rebuttal.
The FCC pointed out that, since it had scrapped the fairness doctrine--almost 20 years ago--there was no guaranteed right of reply, so the station was not required to make any time available for rebuttal.
The FCC also said that news was the core programming protected by the First Amendment and that the Commission "has very little authority to interfere with a licensee's selection and presentation of...editorial programming. Station KWWL(TV) exercised its good faith discretion in determining that the two editorials were relevant and important to the community it served."
As to the financial interest, Raycom said that was not its motivation, and the FCC said it didn't matter whether it was or not. The FCC's Media Bureau said that while "the public interest is paramount to the private interests of a commercial broadcast licensee," the FCC doesn't generally intervene if the private and public interests are not incompatible. "The private interest in airing the two editorials, to the extent there existed one, did not pose a risk of harm to viewers," the FCC said.