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Fox Stations FaceNew D.C. Fight

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Watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has long had a beef with News Corp., and a belief that the Federal Communications Commission is not taking action swiftly and prudently enough on it. Their solution: Open up a second front in the battle. The CREW crew seems likely now to go after the licenses of News Corp.-owned stations WTTG and WDCA in Washington.

CREW has asked the FCC to yank all Fox licenses, alleging that News Corp.’s Rupert and James Murdoch don’t have the character qualifi cations to hold station licenses. Meanwhile, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) has been hammering the FCC on the Hill to look into revoking or not renewing all the licenses.

CREW, however, does not hold out much hope. “Julius Genachowski is not taking the matter as seriously as he should,” Melanie Sloan, CREW executive director, said of the FCC chairman. By challenging the renewal, she said, “the FCC has no choice but to consider the character qualifications.” The FCC could initiate its own investigation, “but that’s not going to happen,” Sloan added.

According to a Fox source, the two D.C. station licenses came due at the beginning of June, though actually they have been in renewal limbo for eight years, thanks to previous unresolved petitions to deny renewal. New petitions aren’t due until September, so the fusillade may have to wait.

Sloan said CREW’s challenge will come “sometime in the summer. We plan to do a thorough job.”

The challenge comes in the wake of the hacking scandal in Britain that has reinvigorated critics of News Corp. such as Lautenberg. The senator has been pushing the FCC to rule on a petition to deny the renewal of WWOR New York (Secaucus, N.J.) over issues of serving, or not serving, New Jersey viewers.

Fox has 27 stations, with five renewals pending, not including the two coming due in Washington, according to the source, who added that Fox expects much of the focus to shift to the D.C. stations. The group CREDO Action has already asked the FCC to revoke all of Fox’s licenses, including the two in D.C.

For those Beltway stations, the eight years of renewal delays have to do with FCC questions about indecency and educational children’s television requirements. Indecency complaints have held up numerous station license renewals—several hundred by some counts—while the courts decide whether the FCC’s indecency enforcement regime is legal. Because the commission can’t resolve the kids TV challenge separately from the indecency petition, it is likely the indecency challenge is the one truly holding up renewal. But even when the Supreme Court resolves the indecency issue one way or another—as is expected in the next few weeks—the D.C. stations will face the CREW challenge on qualification grounds.

Asked if the United Church of Christ is considering renewing its kids TV challenge, UCC policy adviser Cheryl Leanza said that, at this point, and after eight years of inaction on the previous petition, the license renewal process is a “charade.”

“License renewal is supposed to be the time when a broadcaster absolutely must be held accountable to the public on a wide variety of matters,” Leanza said. “But it requires the FCC to do its job, and the FCC has abdicated its responsibility.”

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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.