A nonprofit democracy watchdog group has filed a complaint to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) alleging that a Philadelphia-based Fox News affiliate station should not have its license renewed because it disseminated false information relating to the 2020 presidential election.
The organization, the Media and Democracy Project (MAD), filed its complaint on July 3, alleging that a “good deal” of the false narrative that was broadcast on the cable Fox News channel — which isn’t subject to FCC jurisdiction — “was broadcast on WTXF-TV and other Fox over-the-air television stations.”
“As an FCC broadcast licensee FOX is bound to broadcast in the public interest, convenience, and necessity,” the complaint said. “Instead, it has repeatedly aired false information about election fraud, sowing discord in the country and contributing to harmful and dangerous acts on January 6, 2021.”
Senior management of Fox Corp “manipulated its audience by knowingly broadcasting false news about the 2020 election,” MAD stated in a press release about the complaint. That misinformation, MAD says, was shared on WTXF, which is known as Fox 29 locally.
The “chronic news distortion” further sowed discord “that was a contributing factor to the attack on our nation’s Capitol on January 6, 2021,” MAD went on.
The MAD complaint cites a defamation lawsuit against Fox News by Dominion Voting Systems, noting that the decision in that case “found that FOX’s broadcasts leading up to January 6 repeatedly were false and held that FOX had defamed the voting machine company.”
Fox and Dominion agreed to settle the case for a staggering $787.5 million earlier this year.
“The intentional distortion of news, authorized at the highest levels of FOX’s corporate structure, and fabricated by management and on-air personalities, represents a severe breach of the FCC’s policy on licensee character qualifications,” MAD added.
Though the FCC generally doesn’t act on complaints against over-the-air news stations and their editorial choices, the agency does have the legal power to comply with MAD’s request.
“The FCC is prohibited by law from engaging in censorship or infringing on First Amendment rights of the press,” an FCC fact sheet states. “It is, however, illegal for broadcasters to intentionally distort the news, and the FCC may act on complaints if there is documented evidence of such behavior from persons with direct personal knowledge.”
In an email to Truthout, Mickey Huff, director of Project Censored and the president of the Media Freedom Foundation, said the FCC complaint by MAD was an “important act of civil engagement” through the use of “means established to hold media companies accountable for their misuse and abuse of the public airwaves.”
Huff also noted that other news organizations have recently engaged in similarly problematic behavior.
“For example, MSNBC has been running debunked stories fueling Russiagate for years [and] CNN had a pretty notorious [Chris] Cuomo problem impacting the accuracy and slant of its reporting,” he said, referring to the on-air personality’s conflict of interest in reporting on and influencing coverage of his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).
“The point is, watch what you wish for as other well-funded organizations may soon use the same process, in effect ideologically weaponizing it in our hyper-partisan times,” Huff said.
Ultimately, however, Huff commended MAD’s actions.
“I support MAD’s efforts, and encourage others to become more engaged in our democratic institutions, become more media literate, and demand FCC action to create a more transparent and accurate free press system that functions in the public interest,” Huff said.
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