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AUGUST 28, 2023
On the Prospect website

Kuttner on TAP
Will Fox Lose Its Broadcast License?
A broad coalition asserts, with plenty of evidence hidden in plain view, that Fox fails the FCC’s character test.
Fox Corporation has not had a very good season. In April, the company’s Fox News unit agreed to pay $787.5 million to settle a $1.6 billion defamation suit by Dominion Voting Systems. And last week, former Fox buddy Donald Trump boycotted Fox’s Republican candidates’ debate despite entreaties by Fox execs and on-air talent. Internally, it’s far from clear who is in charge.

And Fox’s problems are about to get worse. Fox is both a network and the owner of 29 individual lucrative TV station franchises, including in 14 of the 15 largest markets. Their licenses require renewal by the FCC every eight years.

Fox’s license for its Philadelphia franchise, WTXF, is currently up for renewal, and is the subject of a campaign by several public-interest groups that has broad and growing support. The FCC’s criteria for renewal include “character,” defined in great detail, a test that Fox flagrantly flunks, especially given its admissions in the Dominion case. On August 23, the Commission agreed to take public comment on this question.

On the eve of that decision, the coalition of groups seeking to deny Fox’s license, led by the Media and Democracy Project, gained a powerful ally in the person of Jamie Kellner, who was the founding president of Fox News. Kellner’s letter to the FCC, requesting a hearing on the issue of Fox’s character, read in part:

Unlike the news feeds provided today by Fox News Channel, our news feeds did not prominently feature advocates like Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell spouting nonsensical lies about a Presidential election … If the character requirement for broadcast licensees is to have any meaning, the FCC must designate the application for a hearing to evaluate the Murdochs’/Fox’s character qualifications to operate WTFX [sic] on the public airwaves.

Others who have filed objections include Alfred Sikes, a former Republican FCC chairman, former Democratic FCC Commissioner Ervin Duggan, and ex–Fox News Channel commentator Bill Kristol. Preston Padden, a former Fox exec and Murdoch confidant, has written: “Mr. Murdoch knew that Trump had lost the election. Nonetheless, Fox continued to promote news stories and guests who claimed, without any basis, that the election was rigged.” Padden supports the anti-Fox campaign.

FOX knew—from the Murdochs on down—that Fox News was reporting false and dangerous misinformation about the 2020 Presidential election, but FOX was more concerned about short-term ratings and market share than the long-term damage caused by its spreading disinformation.

FOX’s lies concerning the outcome of the 2020 election caused a great injury to the American people and the institutions of our democracy. FOX’s willingness to lie demonstrates a fatal character flaw.

If the FCC does agree to a hearing on the merits, it’s hard to see how Fox can get its license renewed. And this challenge will be followed by 28 more, as Fox’s other licences come up for rolling review. If Fox does get its license, we might as well scrap the FCC as meaningless. As the Media and Democracy petition puts it:

This is not a First Amendment case. Rather the issue here concerns a corporation that, with the full knowledge and approval of its management, lied to millions of Americans. The question before the Commission is not whether FOX had a right to lie, rather it is about the consequences of those lies and the impact on FOX’s qualifications to remain an FCC licensee.

Who’ll Stop the Raid?
A little-noticed Justice Department case alleges that Alabama’s Medical Properties Trust engaged in ‘fraudulent conveyance.’ BY MAUREEN TKACIK
Biden’s NLRB Brings Workers’ Rights Back From the Dead
A decision last Friday makes union organizing possible again. BY HAROLD MEYERSON
UAW Brokers a Tentative Agreement With GM Battery Maker Ultium Cells
While the agreement gives Ultium Cells workers a raise of more than 20 percent, membership overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike of the Big Three automakers after September 14. BY JAROD FACUNDO
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