Thursday, November 22, 2012

Licenses For WTMJ, WISN Legally Challenged

A full six months ago, I told the gentle reader about how two Milwaukee radio stations, WTMJ-AM and WISN-AM, were in violation of federal laws - namely, the Zapple Doctrine.

The Zapple Doctrine states that radio stations need to provide equal time to political candidates in the 60 day period leading up to an election.

During that 60 day period leading up to the recall election, yours truly, as well as many others, monitored the air waves. When we saw that they were violating this law, we sent emails to the general managers of each station asking them to start following the laws.

The outcomes were as one might expect from the corporate media, and were outlined in a press release from the Media Action Center, represented by Randy Bryce:
MAC said it conducted a comprehensive study in May/June of 2012 – during the Scott Walker recall campaign – which clearly showed the two stations each gave supporters of Gov. Walker and the GOP about 80 minutes of free airtime daily on their local talk radio shows, while refusing any access to supporters of Mayor Tom Barrett and Democrats whatsoever.

In total, the two stations subsidized the Walker campaign with an estimated $1 million dollars in airtime. The study documents that WISN and WTMJ hosts and guests not only exclusively promoted GOP candidates, but actively recruited volunteers for GOP campaigns over the publicly-owned airwaves, while refusing to provide any free airtime for the other side.

This, the challenge asserts, amounts to private censorship, which violates the First Amendment rights of those in the community who are denied access to the scarce publicly owned airwaves during campaigns. It further states the stations willfully have violated existing FCC rules about comparable time, citing legal opinions from the Wisconsin Broadcasters' Association.

"Broadcast stations have a unique duty to serve the entire public, especially during campaigns," explains MAC director Sue Wilson. "When a radio station uses its giant microphones to cheerlead for candidates of only one political party, no matter which political party it may be, it violates the First Amendment rights and public trust of the entire community.

"The behavior of WISN and WTMJ shows clear political intent, which violates FCC rules, as well as a lack of character to hold a broadcasting license. The FCC must not renew those licenses and should award them to new operators," Wilson said.
The FCC must rule on these challenges by December 1.

Erik Gunn, writing for Milwaukee Magazine, finds the approach novel, but does not think they have much chance for success, given that the FCC is pretty much toothless now.

The right wing response was the usual conflation, claiming that the eeeeeeeevvvvvvvullllll liberals were trying to squelch the voice of the right wing squawkers.

They might very well see it that way.

While they're trying to get people to drink the poisoned Kool Ade, they are afraid the voice of reason will drown them out.

Cross posted at Whallah!


  1. The United States is a democratic republic. Republics cannot survive if you don't have true democracy in place. Democracy, that "marketplace of ideas," must give all sides of an issue to be fair. This is what the Fairness Doctrine was about.
    The Reagan Administration circa 1987 did away with the Fairness Doctrine, allowing the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Charlie Sykes to come to the fore and brainwash their loyal ditto-heads daily.
    The Zapple Doctrine is the last vestige of fairness in place left to regulate commercial radio.
    "Fair and Balanced"?!! You decide...
    Thank you for holding these people accountable.

  2. Does anyone know if the FCC has ever revoked a broadcast license?

    1. There are only a very few cases. In about 1990, a small TV station in GA was taken (with no compensation) when the license holder turned out to be involved in drug money laundering. About ten years earlier, in a much larger case, several licenses were stripped from RKO corporation for a large mess involving massive corruption (although not completely tied to the licenses) -- RKO was involved in situations of international bribery and such.

      There was one station in Jackson MS that was taken from it's original ownership and given to a biracial group as the result of decades of discrimination during the Civil Rights era. That one took years on appeal and went through the Supreme Court. The only other station that lost it's license for similar violations (in Lansing, MI) had the license reinstated on appeal.

      There is a whole group of potential actions against Fox/Murdoch going on right now, from various groups. So far there's nothing about any of them that has progressed to a significant level. There are regular blasts of outrage at the likes of Rash and Murky Levin and the ilk, but there's little in the law that they aren't careful about. Given the politicization of the FCC membership today, I wouldn't get my hopes up.