FCC Regulators Play the Shell Game with Broadcasters: What Really Happened in the Sinclair/Tribune FCC Investigation

 January 25, 2024

Originally published at Project Censored

(Note: Because this includes information obtained via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, this piece required a lot of explanation. It is long, so I'm just providing headlines here. Click "Read More" for the entire article.)

THE AIR BELONGS TO US – But they’re trying to take it away
BROADCASTERS TO FCC: We don’t need no stinkin’ rules!
PARTY ON – Behind the scenes with broadcasters and their regulators
MASQUERADE BALL – They’re not who they say they are
THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN – How far will he pull it back? Not too far
THE BIG REVEAL – What the FCC and Sinclair didn’t want us to know
IT AIN’T OVER UNTIL IT’S OVER – It’s time for a reckoning

Freedom of Information Act - FCC's Consent Decree Negotiation with Sinclair re: the Tribune Merger

January 23, 2024

After more than two years of Freedom of Information Act litigation, the FCC released the documents underlying its Consent Decree negotiation with Sinclair after its failed merger with Tribune Broadcasting.

Many thanks to my attorney Arthur Belendiuk for his dedication in bringing this to a successful conclusion. I have had the docs for a while, but only recently found a publisher for the accompanying story. 

Full story at Project Censored January 25.

FOIA Releases:

Sinclair Response to June 25 2019 LOI Final

Final Document Production Documents



Upcoming FCC Decision will Determine your Internet Speed - reprint from 2014 still holds today

originally published in the Sacramento Bee, October 11, 2014

You’re enjoying your weekend java, wanting to learn what happened at last week’s school board meeting. Your local newspaper doesn’t cover that beat, but a local blogger does a good job, so you try to pull his site up on your laptop. Meanwhile, your 5-year-old opens up “Sesame Street” on her iPad, and on his, your teenage son is bringing up “Spider-Man” on Netflix. You instantly hear the sounds of “Spider-Man,” but your daughter is getting impatient, as her show hasn’t yet appeared. In another minute, the “Sesame Street” theme song finally plays, but your school board blog still isn’t up. You get another cup of coffee and wait. And wait. And wait. Finally, the site fills your screen. 

This is what the Internet will look like if the Federal Communications Commission does not pass strict “Net neutrality” rules. While opponents have painted Net neutrality as government takeover of the Internet, it is actually meant to prevent a corporate takeover of free speech on the Web. Net neutrality means keeping the Internet as it has been since its inception, with users paying their Internet service provider a fee to access the Internet, and then freely choosing what to watch, hear, read or post – with no outside interference. Proponents include Google, Microsoft, AOL, Mozilla, eBay and thousands of small businesses. There is very little opposition to Net neutrality – except from the giant Internet service providers themselves. 

 Verizon, ATT, Comcast and Time Warner Cable are among the chief opponents of the current model. They are now the largest Internet service providers and have devised a more profitable model (for themselves) called “paid prioritization.” They want to charge higher fees to content providers (writers, moviemakers, application developers) who have the means to pay. Those providers who cannot pay more will suffer slower speeds. 

The FCC passed a set of Net neutrality rules, called the 2010 Open Internet Order, trying to bar Internet service providers from blocking content or slowing purchases from retailers, but likely allowing paid prioritization. Verizon promptly sued the FCC, with the circular free speech argument that, as an Internet service provider, it has the editorial right to choose which services it wants to provide, and that right should be protected under the First Amendment. 

Verizon won, but not on the First Amendment argument. The D.C Circuit Court of Appeals found the FCC could impose such rules but had adopted the wrong legal framework to do so. Prior to the Open Internet Order, the FCC classified broadband as an “information service” under Title I of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. But the court found the FCC was imposing regulations on the Internet service providers allowed only under Title II. Were broadband classified as a “telecommunications service,” the FCC could regulate Internet service providers as a common carrier. The court essentially gave the FCC a do-over. 

Regulating broadband as a public utility is the only path that will keep the Internet service providers at bay, but the ISPs warn of years of litigation should the FCC take that route. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, former president of the National Cable TV Association, says Title II is still on the table, but not even FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, upon whom public interest advocates pin their hopes, was willing to commit to that path at Rep. Doris Matsui’s recent Net neutrality forum in Sacramento. 

Of the 3.7 million comments from the public, 99 percent favor Net neutrality. That should count for something. Add a 3-2 Democratic voting advantage at the FCC, and you’d think this is a slam dunk. 

Except that FCC watchers like myself have seen this show before. In 2003, the FCC ignored 3 million comments opposing cross-ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers in the same town. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the agency to go back and listen to the public. So in 2007, the FCC again pretended to listen, then ignored the public again. It’s what they do. 

Politically, Sen. Barbara Boxer favors Title II, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein has yet to commit. Matsui is leading the way with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., by introducing the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act to bar paid prioritization. But getting such legislation into law is no small task. 

With a 3-2 Democratic advantage at the FCC (Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel also favors Net neutrality), the commissioners could easily pass tough rules. But the agency historically is a victim of “regulatory capture.” Instead of serving the public, the FCC serves the very corporations it is supposed to be regulating. And with a former cable TV lobbyist chairing the FCC, the future could look brighter. 

The California Public Utilities Commission could also have an impact, should it endorse common carrier status for Net neutrality. 

Calls to all of these players could make a difference in the future of the Internet forever. 

Don’t let them give our open Internet away. 

Sue Wilson is the Emmy-winning director of the documentary “Broadcast Blues,” editor of SueWilsonReports.com and founder of the Media Action Center. This story was originally published October 11, 2014, 5:00 PM.

Read more at: https://www.sacbee.com/opinion/california-forum/article2674439.html#storylink=cpy

Comments of Sue Wilson and Media Action Center - 2022 Quadrennial Review of Media Ownership Rules

Over the past few years, Sue Wilson through the Media Action Center has received anecdotal complaints from TV viewers in small to mid-sized Television markets nationwide. Viewers say when they turn the channel from a local news program on one station to a local news program on a different station, they see exactly the same news duplicated on both channels. 

This appears to happen when one company has licenses for more than one TV station in the same market, and also when one company has Shared Service Agreements and Joint Sales Agreements with two to three TV stations within the same market. It commonly occurs with Top Four Duopoly stations. In some of those markets, it appears that only one newsroom is servicing entire communities.

Media Democracy advocates have been warning for decades that a single corporation could dominate all local news and information in Anytown, USA. It appears that dystopian threat to democracy is now becoming a reality. It is vital to our very democracy that we develop sufficient data to determine exactly what is occurring – now while we can still stem the tide.

Please see the entire comment and suggestions here:


Why is Alex Jones Still on Our Public Airwaves?

Parents of Sandy Hook victims awarded $965M in second trial against radio hoaxster, but FCC has taken no action against his broadcast lies...

 originally published at the BradBlog October 14, 2022

On Wednesday, a jury in Waterbury, Connecticut awarded parents of schoolchildren slain by a gunman's bullets an extraordinary $965 million in damages because far-right propagandist, conspiracy theorist and huckster Alex Jones publicly defamed them. He did so on U.S. radio stations which are licensed by the federal government to serve in the public interest. (The jury's award on Wednesday follows a $49 million award to Sandy Hook parents in a separate case decided in Texas on August 5.)

Jones and guests on his InfoWars show, broadcast as a radio program over our public airwaves and over the Internet, falsely and repeatedly claimed the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting was a hoax. He told millions of listeners no children were shot; that grieving parents were actually paid "crisis actors"; that the entire shooting, which took the lives of 20 first-graders and six adults, was staged by gun opponents to somehow further their agenda.

As determined by both the Texas and Connecticut cases, these radio broadcasts caused some of Jones' deranged listeners to threaten the grieving parents' lives. According to court documents, Leonard Pozner, whose six-year old son Noah was killed, received threatening voicemails: "You gonna die. Death is coming to you real soon." Pozner and his wife relocated seven times to avoid harassment based on Jones' remarks. Each time they moved, Jones' followers published their new addresses online. "Sometimes I lie awake at night worrying that despite our efforts at security, a determined conspiracy fanatic might gain entry to our home," said Noah's mother, Veronique De La Rosa.

Why is Jones allowed to use our publicly-owned radio airwaves to spread these dangerous lies? To encourage his listeners to cause direct harm to innocent individuals who have already suffered more grief than we can imagine? It should be against the law. It already, kind of, is...

During the Connecticut case, Francine Wheeler, mother of slain six-year-old Ben, told of an encounter at a conference for women who had lost children to shootings. Another mother who had lost her son asked about the photo on Wheeler's necklace. Wheeler said, "That's my son Ben. He died in his first-grade classroom at Sandy Hook School." The other woman replied, "What? You are lying. That didn't happen."

Scarlett Lewis, mother of six-year old slain Jesse Lewis, confronted Jones during the first defamation trial against Jones in Texas. "You're still on your show today trying to say that I'm, implying that I'm an actress, that I am 'deep state.' … Truth, truth is so vital to our world. Truth is what we base our reality on, and we have to agree on that to have a civil society. Sandy Hook is a hard truth. … But I've, since that day, dedicated my life to keeping kids safe. … And having a quarter of Americans doubt that Sandy Hook happened or doubt the facts around Sandy Hook is not conducive to keeping our kids safe. It's not."

Local radio stations broadcast Jones' lies into communities throughout the United States. But let's be clear: We the People own the airwaves over which radio is broadcast, and all U.S. radio stations are legally required --- as a condition of their licenses --- to "serve the public interest." Is it in our collective interest for radio stations to cause continuing harm to Sandy Hook parents who lost their precious children? It is not. Now is our time to act.

Once upon a time, the Sandy Hook parents could have defended themselves directly on the air by demanding the simple right to respond to Jones' personal attacks, but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) withdrew the Personal Attack Rule in 2000. So, today, the parents' only recourse was to hire lawyers and spend years in litigation. (It is long past time for the FCC to restore our right to respond.)

Jones is also in clear violation of the FCC's rule against airing hoaxes on radio or TV. The Code of Federal Regulations (47 C.F.R. § 73.1217) prohibits broadcast licensees or permittees from broadcasting false information concerning a crime or a catastrophe if: (1) the licensee knows this information is false; (2) it is foreseeable that broadcast of the information will cause substantial public harm; and (3) broadcast of the information does, in fact, directly cause substantial public harm.

Radio station management certainly knew the harm and, if they didn't at first, they certainly know now. They are complicit in the damage caused to Sandy Hook parents. Yet no one in power holds them accountable. The FCC, which has received letters from local listeners demanding it enforce the hoax rule, stands mute.

It is possible that the FCC might act if Commission leadership were fully in place. Currently, the seat of one Democratic FCC Commissioner is vacant; Senate leader Chuck Schumer has not yet brought Biden nominee Gigi Sohn up for a confirmation vote. It looks like he is waiting for November election results. If the Senate picks up at least two more Democratic Senators, Sohn's nomination is likely to be approved.

Here is what really works: Local people who understand they are the legal owners of local radio airwaves are putting public pressure on offending radio stations. In areas where Jones used to broadcast, people sent letters, made phone calls and even personal visits to radio station management to demand our right to facts over our public airwaves. Some have written op-eds or letters to editors about this issue. As a result, many radio stations voluntarily took Jones off the air. We salute both the stations and the active citizens who made it happen.

But about 25 other stations resist. Some are in key swing states. Media Action Center has developed an action to help people protest Jones' continuing hoax(es). It includes a list of stations believed to be airing Jones, a letter for people to send to the FCC, and another letter to send to station management.

The Alex Jones fabrications over Sandy Hook brings the debate over mis- and disinformation to the forefront of society. Everyone is asking what we can do about it. Start by complaining to the managers of the airwaves we legally own. If they refuse, let's pull their licenses. It is in the peoples' power to do so - if we act.

* * *


What the FCC can do to Right the Disinformation Wrongs

 October 11, 2021

Thank you to Jen Senko, author of the new book The Brainwashing of My Dad and the documentary of the same name, for promoting the work of my activist arm, the Media Action Center, on Thom Hartmann's radio show today. Thom was asking about we can do about the disinformation problem in this country. 

On October 4, through the Media Action Center, I filed an official Comment to the FCC's Quadrennial Review. In that, I make several specific recommendations about what the FCC can do; without their leadership, all is lost. The Congress also can pass laws. Please see the full report on the Media Action Center website or in pdf form here https://drive.google.com/file/d/1yQk5O8PYr8wDy3hWSbkYEN61JWtf7WJ1/view

What follows is my opening statement and specific rules the Federal Communications Commission should pass. I encourage my readers to read the entire document as it encompasses more than ten years of my research into the topic of disinformation.


The events of January 6, 2021 were entirely foreseeable and, and for those of us watching media policy, predictable. In the arena of public opinion, current Federal Communications Commission rules to govern broadcast radio licensees have been rewarding far-right authoritarian ideologies for a generation, and in practice, preventing any real debate over the air to counter politically motivated lies and disinformation. This problem is compounded by too few radio licensees in any one market, restricting local competition. Looking forward, new FCC rules could well allow one politically motivated TV station group to control all the local news content in TV and radio stations and newspapers in single towns all over the country. With our national debate now pivoting to preventing disinformation, we all realize that FCC media rules really do matter to the very foundation of our country. The FCC has an opportunity now to consider the true impact its rules have on the competition of ideas and information, and rise to this occasion to protect not only industry profits, but also Democracy principles. This paper seeks to provide relevant history, data, and a road map to a better tomorrow.   



1.       Restore the opportunity to respond to both personal and political attacks on our publicly owned airwaves. If a radio or TV broadcaster attacks someone personally, that person must have the right to respond, to defend himself or herself on the same program where they have been attacked.  If a radio or TV show spends hours promoting one political viewpoint, a competitor of opposing views should have the right to respond in that same time slot. This common sense rule change ensures fair competition not only between business competitors but also in the debate so crucial to Democracy.


2.     Using proceeds from the $48 million Sinclair fine, reinstate a 21st Century version of the “FCC Office of Plans and Policy's Working Paper Series.”  As we have learned, the Federal Communications Commission abandoned its former practice of supporting data driven studies. The agency now relies on underfunded non-profit organizations and independent journalists to counter studies funded by the well-heeled broadcast industry. This creates an anti-competitive advantage for industry. Industry has the further benefit of obtaining actual data from the FCC for its reports – because the industry is providing its own data – which is largely unavailable to the public. Is the data industry is providing to the Commission even correct?  Armchair studies suggest it is not, but well-funded studies will provide the facts so crucial to preserving our Democracy in these tenuous times.                                       

3.       Get a current snapshot of Local TV industry operations   Study individual TV markets to determine how many station groups are currently operating within a single community. Determine how many Network stations within that market each group currently controls, how many non-network stations each group controls. Determine whether station groups are operating within the guidelines established by law or whether they are creating shell operations to hide the control of more than their allotted share of licenses to broadcast in every community.


4.       Ensure competition for Local News   Determine on a market by market basis whether station groups are providing different local news stories on each of their TV stations in a single community, or whether they are merely duplicating local news stories on their multiple TV stations. Collaborate with willing local level groups to monitor the airwaves in their own communities across the USA. Using this data, develop guidelines so every community has competition in the realm of news and information.


5.       Rewrite Radio licensee ownership caps   Limit the total numbers of radio licenses to a single radio group to four in a single market, thereby creating opportunities for more station groups to compete. Balance the scale of station Size so each station can have at least one high wattage station.                                                         


6.      Expand the number of five FCC Commissioners to seven to include two Public Interest Commissioners.   These public interest Commissioners will provide the Commission needed insight from real communities outside the Beltway to better serve the public in the Commission’s decision-making process.