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Lawmakers urge FCC to “act swiftly” on WTXF license renewal

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)

A pair of federal lawmakers have urged officials at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to act on an application that seeks the renewal of a Philadelphia television station’s license renewal.

The lawmakers, Senators Robert Casey and John Fetterman, say the FCC have collected public comment concerning the license renewal application for Fox-owned WTXF (Channel 29) for six months, suggesting that is plenty of time for the federal agency to decide if the station is worth keeping around as a licensed broadcaster.

Last year, a grassroots organization called the Media and Democracy (MAD) Project filed a challenge at the FCC following a routine application by Fox to renew the station’s license. Their chief complaint revolves around Fox’s involvement in a defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting System that was resolved last year after the company agreed to settle the case for $787.5 million over election-related disinformation aired on two Fox-owned cable news channels.

While Fox operates its cable news channels separate from its local television station business, the MAD Project said Fox’s common ownership of both and the behavior of certain broadcast executives cast doubt over whether Fox was of sound character to hold a broadcast license for WTXF.

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The challenge has found numerous supporters, including former FCC officials and ex-Fox executives, who say Fox and its corporate overseers cannot be trusted to hold broadcast licenses for stations that use the public airwaves. By allowing misinformation to proliferate on two Fox cable channels, the challengers say Fox is no longer of fit moral character to operate WTXF.

For its part, Fox noted that virtually no programming from the two cable channels — save for a single, non-controversial Sunday news program — are simulcast on its broadcast television stations. It says WTXF, like other Fox stations, fulfill a public service by providing accurate and reliable news and community programming to residents of the Philadelphia metropolitan area, something WTXF supporters affirm.

Last week, Senators Casey and Fetterman reiterated this position, saying the FCC’s public comment period on the matter brought in supportive remarks from “elected officials from a range of backgrounds,” who attested to WTXF’s “commitment to upholding the core values of local broadcasting and to serving Philadelphia’s residents.”

The tone of the letter was generally supportive of WTXF and Fox, though the lawmakers did not explicitly encourage the FCC to find in their favor. Instead, the senators said the agency should “act swiftly to conclude its review of the station’s license renewal,” noting that “WTXF-TV has provided a platform that uplifts Philadelphia’s diverse voices and supports local journalism, and we hope that its delivery of local news and local programming to the community is not disrupted.”

Absent a legal challenge, the FCC does not have a hard deadline to approve or reject Fox’s application to renew WTXF’s license, and it wasn’t clear when that decision will come down.

In a statement emailed to The Desk on Monday, Padden said the two senators appeared to be motivated by their belief that WTXF would be among those covering their re-election campaigns.

“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 said.

“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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