NEWS RELEASE - FCC FOIA Response Inadequate

 May 6, 2021

On October 20, 2020, I, Sue Wilson, filed a Freedom of Information Act Request with the Federal Communications Commission to obtain documents pertaining to the FCC's decision to enter into a Consent Decree with Sinclair Broadcasting over its behavior in its proposed merger with Tribune Media. The Commission itself ordered a public hearing over Sinclair's deliberate misstatements it made to the FCC in its application to merge with Tribune. Administrative Law Judge Jane Halprin called into question whether, given the gravity of the misstatements, Sinclair had sufficient character to hold any broadcast licenses. 

Rather than follow through with the public hearing, the Commission made a deal behind closed doors to issue a Consent Decree and fine Sinclair $48 million. What specific information did Sinclair provide the FCC that resolved these all important character issues?

Today, the FCC responded with a few documents which are already on the public record. They provided no documents that explain or justify why they made the decision to, in secret, dismiss the character and misrepresentation issues it had previously raised.

April 1, 2021, my attorney Arthur Belendiuk filed a Complaint on my behalf with the District Court of Appeals in Washington, DC to obtain the required documents. We will continue to pursue these documents in the Courts.

SCOTUS Approves FCC Rule Allowing Further Consolidation of Local Media Outlets

 Under Trump, the federal agency created a Catch-22 on new rule by requiring private research to counter hidden public data...

originally posted at April 12, 2021

While I was researching a piece last September about Sinclair Broadcasting's illegal TV ownership shell game, I stumbled into a Supreme Court case. Donald Trump's Federal Communications Commission Chair, Ajit Pai, had filed a case at SCOTUS, Federal Communications Commission v. Prometheus Radio Project [PDF], which would allow one media conglomerate to own the local newspaper, 2 network TV stations, 1-2 additional TV stations, and 8 radio stations --- all in the same community. 

The Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals had previously found, in 2017, that the FCC failed to adequately study the matter before making the rules change that would adversely affect ownership of media outlets by women and minorities.

But the danger of the scheme to all of us was immediately apparent. Imagine the potential for propaganda by allowing one company to control the local reporters in virtually every media outlet in a single town!

I had already discovered that Sinclair Broadcasting was illegally controlling three TV stations in Columbus, Ohio, and doing little more than duplicating local news content across all three stations. So, on advice of my colleague and friend Brad Friedman, I began writing an Amicus ("Friend of the Court") brief in the case to inform the U.S. Supreme Court of this and other related information.

My first step was to find the research papers the FCC had done on the topic before its Chair --- on behalf of we, the people --- filed its case with SCOTUS. To my surprise, however, I found there were none. Zip, nada, nothing. The FCC was literally taking a case to the Supreme Court in which it had done no independent research at all...

So, with the aid of Media Action Center (MAC) volunteers, our Amicus brief [PDF] presented a database with photographic evidence showing that since the FCC began issuing waivers for station groups to own two network TV stations in the same town, industry leaders Nexstar, Sinclair Broadcasting, Gray TV, Scripps, and Tegna collectively now control two network TV stations in 70 different communities across the United States. Despite their promises that they would provide more and better local news by being allowed to own two network stations, MAC found in 53 towns, these broadcasters merely duplicate the same news stories on both of its local Network affiliate stations.

The broadcasting industry told the Supreme Court that by consolidating two Network stations they can provide better local news coverage. But we found that the opposite is true. Powerful stuff, I thought.

But it didn't matter. The Court was not interested in what damage has already occurred due to this rule change; they only wanted to know what data had been provided prior to the rule change for the FCC to have made its decision. This sets up the Catch-22.

During oral arguments in FCC v Prometheus on January 19, the final full day of the Trump Administration, Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked Prometheus' counsel, Ruthanne M. Deutsch, what research she had to back up her assertions that allowing one station group to have multiple TV stations in the same market would harm opportunities for minorities and females to have any stations at all. Prometheus argued that the FCC was relying on flawed or non-existent data to make its assessment, and Deutsch cited a Free Press study to back up her case.

But Kavanaugh went on to say that during the FCC's proposed rulemaking process, everybody and anybody could have submitted data...but they did not.

On Thursday, April 1, SCOTUS reversed the lower court's 2017 finding that the Commission failed to take appropriate steps to study the effect of this change in rules for women and minority owners. The high court unanimously allowed these egregious consolidation rules to go into effect.

In the opinion issued by Justice Kavanaugh [PDF], the court held that the "FCC considered the record evidence and reasonably concluded that the three ownership rules at issue were no longer necessary to serve the agency's public interest goals." Kavanaugh further wrote that "the FCC acknowledged the gaps in the data sets it relied on, and noted that, despite its repeated requests for additional data, it had received no countervailing evidence."

"The Commission further explained that its best estimate, based on the sparse record evidence, was that repealing or modifying the three rules at issue here was not likely to harm minority and female ownership," Kavanaugh asserted on behalf of the Court. That, he wrote, was enough for the agency to meet the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) in question. Siding with the FCC, he declared: "In light of the sparse record on minority and female ownership and the FCC’s findings with respect to competition, localism, and viewpoint diversity, we cannot say that the agency’s decision to repeal or modify the ownership rules fell outside the zone of reasonableness for purposes of the APA."

Cheryl Leanza, the United Church of Christ's media justice policy advisor and co-counsel for Prometheus in the case, wrote, "The sparse record is the FCC's own fault. Any analysis of this question must rely on the FCC's data and yet the FCC has long permitted broadcast licensees to avoid filing their ownership data with impunity." That has left independent researchers blinded to key data needed to fully assess the practical effect of ownership rules enacted by the federal agency.

The FCC used to commission its own studies on local broadcasting. In 2002, the FCC issued its own report called "Broadcast Television: Survivor in a Sea of Competition" [PDF] which showed local TV stations in large markets were making as much as 46% annual profits. Now --- or, at least under former President Donald Trump --- the FCC puts out obscure "Notice of Prospective Rulemaking" calls for consumers and largely underfunded non-profit groups to provide their own research to counter that which is provided to the FCC by well-heeled industry leaders, like the National Association of Broadcasters, which applauded the SCOTUS ruling (and, yes, Sinclair Broadcasting's stock shot up more than 3% that day.)

So these rules, which will further decimate local reporting, will go into effect. Current FCC acting Chair, Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel can chip away at the edges, but as soon as Republicans retake the White House, the floodgates of misinformation will open up in Everytown, USA.

Why is Congress allowing a politically driven agency to make democracy decisions in the first place? The FCC was originally formed to keep one radio station's signal from bumping into another; now it is colluding with major media conglomerates to rob free speech rights of the very people whose interest it is sworn to serve.

Broadcasting is legally supposed to "serve the public interest." So contact your Senators and Representatives! Tell them Congress must supercede the administrative agency's rules and pass actual laws to protect We the People from unscrupulous broadcasters controlling all or most of what we hear and see on local radio and TV. And do it now, while they still can.

* * *

APTRA, RTNDA, PRNDI and Emmy-winning Sue Wilson is a broadcast activist journalist, the director of the documentary Broadcast Blues, and founder of the Media Action Center. Reach her at or via Twitter at @SueBluesWilson

Supreme Court: Say no to the FCC and #SaveLocalNews!

 January 18, 2021

The last act of the Trump administration may prove to be the most damaging.

The Supreme Court will hear a case January 19 which, if decided in favor of the Federal Communications Commission, will accelerate this country’s mis- and disinformation crisis. In FCC v Prometheus, the FCC, under direction of Trump designated Chair Ajit Pai, is trying to change local broadcasting rules so one company could own the local newspaper, all or most of the TV stations and all or most of the radio stations - in the same town. One voice, one community, no opportunity for dissent.

The agency legally tasked to “serve the public interest, convenience and necessity” has acted to eliminate public debate for decades; those FCC actions over time have directly led to the crisis in the nation’s Capitol today.

The propaganda of World War II taught our leaders to safeguard the publicly owned airwaves from one single voice gaining too much power. The best way to serve the public interest was to ensure the public could have access to the airwaves we collectively own. So Congress established limits on how many stations a single operator could have to ensure diversity of voices. The FCC established the Fairness Doctrine, which required radio and TV stations to “afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of conflicting views on matters of public importance.” They established the Personal Attack rule, which provided anyone attacked personally on our publicly owned airwaves the opportunity to respond on the air. There was the Political Editorializing rule, which said if a station editorialized against a candidate for public office, it would offer an opportunity for a response.

Starting in 1987, the FCC took away the public’s opportunity for give and take by eliminating all those rules and more. The agency has even recently removed its prohibition of “incitement to violence” from its website.

In 1996, Congress allowed one operator to control as many radio stations as they could buy. Just a handful bought all the best radio real estate, then excluded liberal and moderate shows from being on the air.

That takeover of who may speak and who may not respond into microphones has literally divided our culture. Sean Hannity’s radio show (which has 15 million listeners, as opposed to the 4 million viewers he has on Fox News,) is rated by conservatives as the second most trusted news source in the country; Rush Limbaugh follows as third with his 15 million listeners (according to Pew Research.) Talkers Magazine data indicates 100 million people listen every day to what was once considered “Conservative” but now is clearly Right Wing talk radio hosts. Certainly there is some overlap of those listening to multiple programs, but that number is up from Talkers research showing 60 million listeners in 2016.

Six days after the 2020 election, Limbaugh told his audience, “There's simply no way Joe Biden was legitimately elected president. I just can't believe it. I do not believe it. Intellectually and as I look at what I have learned and what I have seen over the course of the past four, five days, there's simply no way.” Unlike yesteryear, no one was allowed an opportunity on the air to counter that fiction in a meaningful way (people can call into the program, but calls are screened, and generally only less informed callers are allowed on the air.) Same when Hannity told his radio audience on December 18, “There's no doubt this was stolen. No doubt whatsoever. I don't have any doubt in my mind.”

So people who listen to these programs on hundreds of stations nationwide dominating the drive-through states and brainwashing middle America, absolutely believe the election was stolen, even though Court after Court has ruled there is no evidence that occurred.

Now the FCC is attempting to do to local TV news what it has done to radio. 

In an Amicus brief in FCC v Prometheus, Media Action Center details research proving the FCC is already allowing Sinclair to control three of the seven local TV stations in Columbus, Ohio, the State Capitol. Those stations are running exactly the same local news content on their websites. This pattern plays out in dozens of local TV markets across the United States, and not just with Sinclair.  

So the FCC allows a single operator to control virtually all the local reporting in any one community. What’s the worst that could happen?

In 2009, then Rep. Mike Pence told C-Span his “Broadcaster Freedom Act” would simply “take away the power of the Federal Communications Commission to restore the Fairness Doctrine without an act of Congress.”

I disagreed with him then, but I see the wisdom of it now.  Decisions like this are above the FCC’s pay grade.

Find the Media Action Center Amicus Brief at the Supreme Court detailing how the FCC is looking the other way while TV industry chief are quietly taking over local news here, and tune in to CSPAN tomorrow at 10 AM EST to hear oral arguments.  


Why Does the FCC Allow Sinclair Broadcasting to Violate Station Ownership Rules in Baltimore and Beyond?

 An investigation of FCC, SEC documents in a citizen-filed 'Petition to Deny' licensing for three stations controlled by the media behemoth may finally help put an end to the 'sham' control of our public airwaves...

originally posted September 23, 2020 at 

Baltimore's crowded TV market highlights the shell game that media goliath Sinclair Broadcasting plays across the nation to illegally dominate the information Americans can consume over our public airwaves. The agency tasked with overseeing those airwaves, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has long turned a blind eye to allow Sinclair, the very powerful purveyor of rightwing propaganda, to violate US law. 

Congress passed the Telecommunications Act [PDF] so no single television company could dominate the news and information available to "We the People" in any single market or even nationwide. Under the law, a single TV company is permitted to reach no more than 39% of viewers in the United States over all. In a single local broadcast market, one company may apply to own two stations --- if there are nine or more stations in that market.

Baltimore has just eight stations, and three of them are actually owned by Sinclair: WBFF, WNUV, and WUTB.

Sinclair lawyers (who also represent Cunningham Broadcasting and Deerfield Media) will say Sinclair owns WBFF, Cunningham owns WNUV and Deerfield owns WUTB. But, in a September 1 legal Petition to Deny the renewal of all three stations' licenses, due to both the shell game and the lies Sinclair has told to protect its unlawful ownership, Republican attorney Art Belendiuk researched Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) documents to prove that both Deerfield and Cunningham are actually both controlled by Sinclair.

"Sinclair controls three television stations in Baltimore, while the FCC rules do not permit it to control more than one," the petition, filed on behalf of local viewer Ihor Gawdiak, argues, while detailing how the shell game of nominal ownership by the other two companies is simply meant to mask Sinclair's violation of federal law...

Radio Host Alex Jones promotes dangerous fiction. Stations should say so.

originally published in the Sacramento Bee 

In this Monday, April 17, 2017 photo, “Infowars” host Alex Jones, right, arrives at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Texas. Jones, the right-wing radio host and conspiracy theorist, is a performance artist whose true personality is nothing like his on-air persona, according to a lawyer defending the “Infowars” broadcaster in a child custody battle. (Tamir Kalifa/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

Read more here:

 In this Monday, April 17, 2017 photo, “Infowars” host Alex Jones, right, arrives at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Texas. Jones, the right-wing radio host and conspiracy theorist, is a performance artist whose true personality is nothing like his on-air persona, according to a lawyer defending the “Infowars” broadcaster in a child custody battle. (Tamir Kalifa/Austin American-Statesman via AP) AP

Read more here:

Even California’s wildfires have been wrapped into radio host Alex Jones’ dangerous conspiracy theories.

In a post on Jones’ Infowars website last year, a man identified as a fire captain suggested only an energy weapon could have caused Northern California’s October 2017 fires.

This summer, Forrest Clark, a mentally troubled Jones fan who had shared a theory on social media that California wildfires were part of an international conspiracy, was charged with starting the Holy Fire.

“It’s all going to burn like you planned,” he wrote in a text to a volunteer fire chief before allegedly starting the fire, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Jones occupies a central position in the realm of conspiracy, and has rightly been removed from major social media platforms for harassment, glorification of violence and child endangerment. But radio stations around the country still broadcast the dangerous falsehoods he promotes on “The Alex Jones Show,” which are contributing to real-world terror.

He told radio listeners nationwide that the Sandy Hook school shooting never happened.

Small Town, Big Smears, No Rebuttal Allowed

UPDATE: Yesterday, July 5, Publisher Jack Mitchell posted 
both my open letter and the Amador Fire press release online, 
and featured both links on the front page of the Ledger Dispatch. 
Thank you, Jack. 

Given the many questions posed in Mr. Frank Moreno's OpEd  
and by many others privately, I am calling on the Ledger 
Dispatch and its owner the Jackson Rancheria Band of Miwuk 
Indians to hire an independent investigative reporter, someone 
without personal connections to the people involved, to answer 
the "Who, what, where, when how and why" of this very 
important story. Fire safety is the single most important issue 
of our time in this rural county, and we deserve the best public 
service we can have. Certainly there are excellent reporters close 
by who have worked for McClatchy news' The Sacramento Bee 
who would be willing to take this on, or perhaps given the state 
implications, someone from CalMatters.

Impeachment By Radio - The Elephant in the Room is NOT the GOP

February 14, 2020

     On October 24, 1998, a group of activists from across the United States gathered in Washington DC to protest the Ken Starr investigation into Bill Clinton in the first rally ever organized on the Internet.
     Darrell Hampton's umbrella group "We the People" was generally outraged at Starr's excesses; White House staffer Bob Weiner railed against Ken Starr for subpoenaing him for eating ice cream with a fellow Democrat; the fledgling group "Censure and MoveOn" (later to become was featured; and my "Truth in America Project" focused on the biased media promoting the investigation, media which had recently gained its dominance from the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

     We all understood the long drawn out Grand Jury investigation of Bill Clinton had found no crimes, and so Starr et al manufactured a perjury trap to have an excuse to impeach the President. As I said on the Ellipse in front of the White House, "Is it okay for a big government attorney to work with a private civil lawyer to see if they can figure out a way to get a man to lie about his sex life so they can prosecute him for it?"
     But what was just coming to light, and what has had a lasting damaging legacy, is the effect of the 1996 Telecommunications Act on our political landscape.
     Brief history: When radio and television were first invented, broadcast pioneers and government officials recognized that radio had the potential to entertain and inform, but when used improperly, also to brainwash a population. So Congress passed the 1934 Communications Act, which limited any one owner in the United States to owning just 9 stations nationwide: 3 AM radio stations, 3 FM radio stations, 3 TV stations. The thinking was that by having multiple local owners, no one person could dominate the (publicly owned) airwaves with political rhetoric.
     Ah, those were the days...

Fakebook: Zuckerberg's Hands-Off Political Ad Policy Undermines American Democracy Itself

October 25, 2019

$10 billion should buy a lot of fact-checking on his social media platform. Instead it empowers the fake news he claims to oppose...

     There has been a battle between Elizabeth Warren v. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook since the social media giant started accepting incendiary paid advertisements from President Donald Trump in which his campaigns makes claims about former Vice President and Presidential candidate Joe Biden that are, to put it mildly, less than true.
     Recently, Warren, in a gutsy move, shot back with an ad that willfully lied about Zuck and Trump so she could make a valid point about Facebook's recent policy of allowing candidates' ads to run on Facebook without any vetting of facts.

     What is really at issue is whether laws developed for local broadcast licensees can --- or should --- apply to social media platforms and, really, whether any outlets should be allowed to make billions of dollars knowingly running ads that lie and purposely misinform the public.

Book Review: Reality (TM) 2048 by Derek Cressman

May 22, 2019

Note: I rarely write book reviews, but activist writer Derek Cressman has written a novel which so speaks to me as it portrays a future born of today's media manipulations.  Find it at Amazon.  

Derek Cressman’s REALITY 2048 is a modern day horror tale disguised as a futuristic thriller. 
Cressman’s novel is written in the same vein as George Orwell’s 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty Four, but by the time the calendar turned to 1984, little of what Orwell predicted actually existed. 
 REALITY 2048, on the other hand, offers an entirely realistic dystopian future which projects just past modern day headlines to a society brainwashed by corporate/ government propaganda which has traded security for freedom. It chillingly takes us into post-nuclear Los Angeles, but is at core an indictment of modern day media manipulation and indoctrination.  

Unfortunately, Alex Jones, Sandy Hook Did Happen #StopTheHoax

December 14, 2018

Last July, after Facebook and Twitter and You Tube banned radio host and performance artist Alex Jones from their platforms, I did a little digging, and found that his program and all his affiliate stations are breaking a longstanding Federal Communications Commission rule prohibiting hoaxes.  And what Jones has been doing goes way beyond the original 1938 Halloween broadcast of War of the Worlds, which prompted passage of the rule in the first place.
The nationally syndicated radio host is currently being sued in Connecticut and Texas by at least eight families who have faced the unthinkable: losing their children in a school shooting. The Sandy Hook school shooting. The school shooting Alex Jones broadcast never happened.
Court filings document the Alex Jones broadcast saying: “Children did not die, teachers did not die on December 14, 2012.”  “How do you even convince the public something's a total hoax?... The general public doesn't … know they had the kids going in circles in and out of the building as a photo-op” “… Sandy Hook is a synthetic completely fake with actors, in my view, manufactured.” Referring to video of the parents of children killed in the shooting, Jones stated that "they ... bring in actors to break down and cry.”  
Once Jones planted that seed, people began to attack the real grieving parents of small children. Among them, the parents of slain six year old Noah Pozner received death threats, had to relocate seven times, and now live too far to even visit their son’s gravesite.  “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, in reports of her court declaration. Declared her husband, “Due to Mr. Jones’ broadcast, I have also suffered severe emotional distress and trauma which I cannot even begin to adequately describe. No human being should ever be asked to suffer through the torment Mr. Jones carried out.”  

Fake news is only the beginning. The FCC is about to let monopolies decide what local news you see

What would happen if the politician you love to hate were indicted, but your local news didn’t report it? No newspaper stories, no TV news, no radio news on the hour, nothing.
Couldn’t happen? Think again.
The Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission will vote Nov. 16 to allow just one corporation to own the local newspaper plus nearly every commercial TV station in your town. Nifty way to reduce down to just one newsroom then dictate whatever information that corporation does – and does not – want you to know in this democracy.
It’s exactly what’s happened with radio. Back in the day when lots of companies owned 40 radio stations, the broadcast industry made big promises that local information would be much more diverse if they could simply own many more stations. The 1996 Telecommunications Act resulted in a handful of corporations owning thousands of stations – and force feeding conservative programming down our country’s throats ever since, no debate, no opposing opinions allowed.
The Media Action Center showed during the Scott Walker recall in Wisconsin that “conservative” radio giants there gave millions of dollars in free airtime to the GOP candidate – while refusing to allow a single Democrat on the air at all. GOP operatives there still gloat about radio winning elections for them. After 21 years of this kind of divisive public policy, 60 million people listen to conservative radio... about the same number that voted for Donald Trump.

Media Action Center WIns $13.5 Million Victory Over Entercom

April 10, 2017
Originally published at

Over the weekend, Dan Morain, editorial page editor at Sacramento Bee, wrote an article about what I've been working on, and writing about here at The BRAD BLOG and elsewhere, for many years now.
Morain's article starts this way:
From her home outside the no-stoplight settlement of Fiddletown, Sue Wilson tilted at a corporate windmill, and a funny thing happened.
Sue from Fiddletown won, on our behalf. You can hear the sound of that victory at the end of the FM radio dial in Sacramento. Where there once was commercial pop music, hooting deejays and stupid radio stunts, there’s static.
"We the People own the air waves," she said, and repeats: "We the People."
It's a very nice article, that begins with a tragic story. That story, however, now has at least a somewhat encouraging ending for, yes, We the People.
Here's what happened...