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Reps.: FCC Should Hold 'RT' to Transparency Standards

On the same day the Senate is grilling former Obama and Trump Administration officials about Russian interference in U.S. elections, a group of House Democrats has asked the FCC to apply transparency requirements to RT (formerly Russia Today) broadcasts delivered over the airwaves.

RT broadcasts from Washington, D.C., studios. While it lists 19 cable systems, satellite operator Dish, Roku, Google and Apple apps, IPTV outlets and a lot of hotel channels, the only terrestrial outlet identified is MHz4 in Washington, one of a suite of noncommercial digital subchannels of WNVC and WNVT, although their spectrum was sold in the FCC inventive auction and will be going off the air soon, according to what they told the FCC.

The legislators said they were not looking to chill speech, just identify it. They asked whether the FCC's sponsorship rules should apply to foreign-state-sponsored channels.

“It is a fundamental principle in the American broadcast system that the public has a right to know who is behind programming on our public airwaves that is designed to persuade them,” the members wrote in the letter. “Given RT’s efforts to hide its true intentions, we believe it is critical for the American people to have a clearer picture of the true source of this channel’s programming," they wrote to FCC chairman Ajit Pai. 

The FCC requires identification of the sponsors of commercial, political or controversial content, they point out, as well as to maintain that information in public files. Both WNVT and WNVC have public files in the FCC's database already but not RT as a DTV subchannel, to which different rules apply.

The letter comes following a January report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence finding that RT played a propaganda role in Russia's efforts to influence the election outcome, according to the letter, spearheaded by former House Communications Subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.). 

Also signing on to the letter were Reps. Mike Doyle, David Cicilline, Judy Chu, Jimmy Panetta, Jerry McNerney, Mark Takano, Doris Matsui, Peter Welch, Eric Swalwell and Dave Loebsack.