Sunday, May 20, 2012

Don't get mad at Wisconsin hate radio- get even

Annoying Scott Walker ads are not the only way right-wingers are trying to saturate Wisconsin with their side of the story. The most egregious example of this are the 9 hours of hate brought to you every day on Milwaukee stations 620 and 1130, with obvious coordination and information being passed directly from WisGOP to the hosts. However, they may be running afoul of the law, as reporter/blogger Sue Wilson exposes in the following piece.
There are two radio markets in the U.S. I've been closely watching which highlight these concepts of physical scarcity and private censorship. One is Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where five local Conservative Talk Radio hosts dominate 100,000 watts of radio power.

The other is my adopted hometown, Sacramento, where Clear Channel Communications broadcasts about 190 hours per week of national one-sided political talk over three giant stations, KFBK-AM, KGBY-FM and AMFM Holding's KSTE-AM Clear Channel management disputed that number at a recent meeting with Media Action Center, Sacramento Media Group, and Occupy Sacramento. But (now former) Clear Channel GM Jeff Holden told us he is very comfortable airing only one-sided political talk on three giant stations - during an election year.

But what Holden may or may not have known is that, in the 60 days prior to an election, if broadcasters sell or give time to one major political party candidate or its supporters, they must, by law, offer comparable time to the opposing major political party candidate or its supporters. (See Section 315a of the Communications Act and the Zapple Doctrine.)

The Media Action Center has been monitoring talk radio stations owned by Clear Channel and Journal Communications in Milwaukee since May 9th, the first day of the Walker/Barrett campaign in Wisconsin. We will release detailed results of that monitoring [Tuesday] May 22nd, but suffice it to say that supporters of one major political party are getting short shrift, and they have been complaining to the Talk stations demanding equal time, and they will soon be complaining – loudly – to the Federal Communications Commission to immediately enforce comparable time laws under Zapple. (The FCC is the law enforcement agency on broadcasting issues.)

But those Talk Radio giants are also violating the First Amendment rights of supporters of candidates whom they are not allowed to be heard in the midst of the election. "Private censorship" comes down to a matter of access, says the Supreme Court of the United States.

And speaking of limiting access, the Walker campaign is apparently doing just that with certain stations for these last 2 weeks of campaigning. So much so that I have seen commentator reports on Daily Kos and other places hinting at the fact that the Walker campaign has bought so many ads that it is preventing other groups' ads from being shown. This is a restriction of access, and runs counter to FCC rules regarding political advertising. It is one thing to have more money than the other candidate and be able to afford to buy more ads, but from what I remember in my MassComm Law classes at UW, it is wholly another thing for a station to keep another candidate from being able to go on that station if they have the money to do so. If the Walker campaign and the TV stations in Wisconsin are doing this to the Barrett campaign or other groups, they are in violation of the law, and are subject to fines and further action from the FCC.

Remember that broadcast stations are required to act in the public interest as a requirement of their license from the FCC, and if WTMJ-AM and WISN-AM and WTAQ in Green Bay (among others) are actively keeping left-wing guests and voices off of their station before an Election Day (and no one doubts they are- try calling in as an honest left-wing caller if you don't believe me), they are violating the requirements of that license. As a result, they are asking for someone to challenge the owners when those stations' licenses come up for renewal. And interestingly, all stations in Wisconsin have their license expire on December 1 of this year, and the deadline to file a petition protesting the renewal of that license is November 1 of this year.

So this has now piqued my interest, and I wanted to see what the FCC had to say about filing a petition to deny. So here it is.
Petition to Deny Requirements. First, to file a Petition to Deny, a person must be a "party in interest" and have "standing." That means, generally, that the person must have more than a passing interest in the station. He or she must be a regular listener or have some other contact with the station that gives the petitioner a real stake in the outcome of the renewal process. A petition must be supported by an affidavit of a person or persons with personal knowledge of the allegations of fact contained in the petition. [ed. note: I'd think there's a few people on the left side of the Cheddarsphere that have some good records of what hate merchants like Sykes, Belling, McKenna have said to smear Dems and union supporters.] Additionally, a Petition to Deny a license renewal must be "timely" filed at least one month prior to the license expiration date, as explained in the previous paragraph. Finally, the petition must contain a certification that a copy of the petition was mailed to the station. Failure to include the certification that a copy was mailed to the station and the affidavit of personal knowledge will result in dismissal of the Petition to Deny.

Procedure for Filing Informal Objections. A person or entity opposing the grant of a station's license renewal application may file an informal objection against the license renewal application at any time prior to staff action on the license renewal application. An informal objection is less formal than a Petition to Deny, but some requirements still apply. It may take the form of a letter signed by the objector and mailed or delivered to one of the FCC addresses above. An informal objection need not contain the affidavit required for a Petition to Deny. It should, however, contain sufficient information to establish any violation alleged. Additionally, an informal objection not received by the time the station's license renewal is granted will not be considered.

Filing Positive Comments. Affirmative comments concerning a licensee's service during the prior license term should be filed by the Petition to Deny deadline through the Office of the Secretary at the addresses listed in the next section. [Ed. Note: This could be good too, as it could make WisGOP or Koch or WMC-backed groups go on the record to back up the stations that help them out.]
Given the one-sided, degrading nature that stations like 620 and 1130 have had on this state, maybe it's time to put these guys to the test, and make them show that they are or are not fully-paid subsidiaries of the Wisconsin Republican Party. Putting up a Petition to Deny would be a great way to make them show their cards, and see whether they are or are not fully-paid subsidiaries of the RPW and WMC. Sounds like Sue Wilson may be onto something here, and exposing these hate radio mouthpieces for the puppets they are would be a beautiful bit of revenge indeed.

Of course the best revenge would be to blow Scott Walker away at the polls on June 5, and show just how much of a bubble these right-wing shows are compared to the everyday lives of Wisconsinites (heck, I might have to listen to 620 and 1130 for one of the few times in my life that day if it happens). But I think jamming these oligarchs and their on-air spokepeople in the pocketbook and making them sweat to stay on the air (or have to change the way they do business because of the disgraceful way they have handled themselves) would get a whole lot more of their attention, as well as the attention of an often-unknowing public.

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