Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby's office has filed a formal complaint with the FCC seeking an investigation of the "broadcast practices and media content" of Sinclair-owned Fox affiliate WBFF-TV Baltimore, specifically its reporting about her office and herself. The station stands by its coverage.
Zy Richardson, communications director for Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office said in a letter to acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel that the content could be "reasonably" concluded to be "categorized as blatantly slanted, dishonest, misleading, racist [Mosby is Black], and extremely dangerous."
Mosby's office is alleging the station is intentionally distorting the news in violation of FCC rules.
Richardson said the office was most disturbed by what he alleged was "an intentional crusade against [Mosby], which given today’s politically charged and divisive environment, is extremely dangerous."
On its website, WBFF pointed out that Mosby is "the focus of a federal criminal investigation, the subject of a scathing report from the City Inspector General and whose house is under an Internal Revenue Service lien for unpaid federal income tax."
The investigation into Mosby's finances has been reported by numerous broadcast outlets as well as the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun.
"FOX45 News is committed to investigating corruption in public officials, asking tough questions and holding leaders accountable," the station said on its website. "Our award-winning investigative unit is a key part of delivering that commitment. While we understand that it may not be popular with the individuals and institutions upon which we are shining a light, we stand by our reporting."
Richardson said he had complained to the station about its coverage but the station had not changed that coverage. He told Rosenworcel that if that coverage was not "curtailed" by the FCC, "then someone is going to get hurt." He did not elaborate on who or how.
He asked Rosenworcel to use the FCC's "full investigative and enforcement powers" to take action against the station ASAP.
The station said Mosby appeared to be leveraging government power to influence media coverage.
The Media Institute agreed.
“These government officials are asking the FCC to investigate, and presumably sanction, a local broadcast outlet because they did not like the news coverage they received," said Media Institute President Richard Kaplar. "This is a direct and unacceptable threat to the First Amendment rights of the journalists involved."
“This matter is especially egregious because the television station holds a broadcast license issued by the FCC. It is obvious that freedom of the press would cease to be a reality for local broadcasters if every government official who received coverage perceived as unfavorable exerted a chilling effect on local TV news coverage by calling for an FCC investigation that could (if even remotely) imperil a station’s broadcast license.”
An FCC spokesperson was unavailable for comment, but the FCC does not weigh in on individual complaints.
Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
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