A liberal activist and her group are continuing their efforts to silence talk radio in Wisconsin. Upset that the state’s two largest AM stations, WTMJ and WISN in Milwaukee, have show hosts with right-of-center political leanings, the group Media Action Center filed complaints last year asking the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the stations and force them to give more air time to Democrats and liberals. If they didn’t, the group asked the Obama Administration’s FCC to deny at least one station – WTMJ – its license to broadcast.
Last week, Sue Wilson, the head of MAC, used the anniversary of the initial complaints to tout a petition campaign she has launched to call on the FCC to crack down on talk radio across the country. Citing the recall election of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin as an example, Wilson said the actions of WTMJ and WISN show that talk radio abuses the public airways by promoting Republican candidates while ignoring Democratic candidates.
Wilson late last year filed a pleading with the FCC asking the federal government to deny the renewal of WTMJ’s broadcast license. Her petition, which is gathering signatures on a MoveOn.org hosted platform, states that, “The FCC must use its power to draw a clear distinction between fact and opinion in order to protect the public’s access to “bonafide” news on our public airwaves. Safeguarding the public interest is the FCC’s sacred obligation.”
Wilson contends with her petition that WTMJ radio exclusively afforded Governor Walker and his supporters an unfair advantage in the recall election in 2011.
“During the 2012 Scott Walker recall campaign in Wisconsin, Milwaukee AM radio station WTMJ used its local talk radio shows to exclusively promote Republican Governor Scott Walker and his supporters, while refusing time to his Democratic opponent and his supporters.”
Broadcasters, such as the Journal Communication’s owned WTMJ, say that they are not required by law or regulation to afford absolutely equal airtime to supporters of political candidates because talk radio is a news type format. The liberal Media Action Center scoffs at that assertion claiming that if the FCC agrees, it will mark the demise of true news. “If the FCC redefines editorial opinion as “news,” it will sound the death knell for truth in journalism as we know it,” the group claims.
In a piece published by the Huffington Post, Wilson breathlessly asserted that the Obama Administration must use the FCC before all is lost. “Such selective private censorship over our public airwaves violates not only the First Amendment . . . but also the Zapple Doctrine . . . ”
The Zapple Doctrine is a dusty relic that relied on the now-defunct, so-called Fairness Doctrine to say that broadcasters had to give equal time not only to opposing candidates, but also the supporters of opposing candidates.
According to Radio Ink, a radio industry trade magazine, an attorney who specializes in broadcasting, John Garziglia, believes that the Zapple Doctrine is no longer enforceable. “The Zapple Doctrine has not been enforced by the FCC for decades. It is highly questionable whether it has any validity now that the Fairness Doctrine and restrictions on political editorials are no more,” he told the magazine. That is also the view of the Journal Communications attorneys who have asked the FCC to dismiss the pleading to deny WTMJ’s license.
It remains to be seen if Wilson’s antics will result in any real action. If the FCC does penalize conservative talk radio, however, it could fan the flames of skepticism of the Obama Administration that started with the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups.