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Group urges FCC to act on WTXF license renewal

The Media and Democracy Project says it supports efforts by two federal lawmakers who want the federal agency to decide on the Fox-owned station's application.

The Media and Democracy Project says it supports efforts by two federal lawmakers who want the federal agency to decide on the Fox-owned station's application.

The front of the Federal Communications Commission building in Washington, D.C. (FCC public domain image)
The front of the Federal Communications Commission building in Washington, D.C. (FCC public domain image)

A group pushing for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to deny an application submitted by Fox for the renewal of one of its television station licenses has joined calls by federal lawmakers urging the agency to act on the matter.

On Monday, the Media and Democracy (MAD) Project said it supports a letter sent by Senators Robert Casey and John Fetterman (both representing Pennsylvania in Congress) that urges the agency to act on the matter after several months of deliberation and public comment.

The lawmakers are on the opposite side of MAD on the issue, with both senators saying WTXF upholds its commitment to serve the public interest by airing local news and community-oriented programming, among other things.

MAD claims WTXF’s ownership by parent company Fox is enough to deny the petition, because Fox last year settled a defamation case brought by a voting machine company over certain election-related misinformation aired on two of its cable news channels. That settlement is proof that Fox is not of fit character to hold a broadcast license in Philadelphia, the group claims. MAD counts numerous former Fox and FCC officials among its supporters.

On Monday, a spokesperson for MAD said the group recently filed a reply brief with the FCC urging them to finally act on the matter, joining calls from the two senators who largely said the same, but for different reasons.

DOCUMENT: Read the reply brief sent by MAD Project to the FCC [Pro Access]

The filing restates MAD’s position that the defamation lawsuit and certain evidence revealed during the legal process was proof that Fox is led by a consortium of executives who are unfit to hold a broadcast license because they are not of sound character.

Specifically, MAD appears concerned over certain e-mails, text messages and other written records that showed Fox executives knew certain statements made by its cable news hosts and guests related to the 2020 presidential election were false, but allowed them to be aired on the Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network anyway. Fox settled the lawsuit last year for $787.5 million, one of the largest payouts from a news organization in a defamation case ever.

MAD said the matter is so serious that the FCC should hold a public hearing about the matter, at which point it should decide the fate of WTXF’s license renewal application.

“Fox Corporation’s conduct following the 2020 election was so destructive of the national interest that the Commission must designate the application for hearing,” MAD’s filing said. “The documents that are the subject of MAD’s motion can only reinforce what is already in the public record, further demonstrating the egregious behavior of Fox and its leadership.”

The studios of Fox station WTXF appears in an undated image. (Photo via Google Street View)
The studios of Fox station WTXF appears in an undated image. (Photo via Google Street View)

MAD also takes issue with WTXF’s apparent failure to file timely records related to certain political advertising that aired on its station — claims that the organization supported with numerous records that came from several sources, including the station’s own public inspection file. The FCC has never disciplined WTXF on that matter, though it could.

Taken together, MAD claims it has “raised substantial and material questions of fact concerning Fox’s fitness as a licensee based on its promotion of false election narratives and its failure to maintain current political files.”

The FCC is not required to decide the matter within any set amount of time, and can take as long as it wants to decide on whether to approve or reject Fox’s application to renew WTXF’s license. Typically, license renewals are a rubber-stamp process, with the owners of broadcast stations receiving an answer within a few weeks of a filing, absent a serious and real objection from a third party.

Efforts to petition the FCC to reconsider or reject a broadcast license application or renewal are rarely upheld by the agency. But MAD contends that if commissioners do their job well, they’ll find in favor of the group and reject Fox’s application in this case.

“If properly pursued, the Commission likely would conclude that the station is not serving its community well and the community would better be served by a licensee other than Fox,” MAD wrote in its filing this week.

And while MAD said they appreciate the efforts by the two senators in urging the FCC to act on the matter, they criticized both lawmakers for offering “a lukewarm endorsement to [WTXF] as they would to any television station in the Philadelphia viewing area.”

Preston Padden, a former senior-level Fox executive who is now leading an effort to challenge the license of Philadelphia station WTXF. (Still image from video by U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce)
Preston Padden, a former senior-level Fox executive who is now leading an effort to challenge the license of Philadelphia station WTXF. (Still image from video by U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce)

Last month, MAD supporter and former Fox executive Preston Padden said the lawmakers appeared motivated by a desire to stay in good relations with WTXF as each pursues a re-election campaign.

“Just like Fox did not want to ‘piss off’ their MAGA viewers by reporting the truth, as Fox Exec Suzanne Scott so eloquently put it in an email, politicians – even those of the highest integrity like Senators Casey and Fetterman- don’t want to ‘piss off’ a TV station that will cover their election,” Padden affirmed in a statement to The Desk.

“With due respect to Senators Casey and Fetterman, in a 120-page opinion based on extensive record evidence, a Court held that the Murdochs [and] Fox…repeatedly presented false news about the 2020 election,” Padden continued. “Emails among the Murdochs and Fox executives show conclusively that they presented false news to protect their profits. These actions do not reflect the character required of broadcast licensees.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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