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Friday, November 25, 2022

Congress Steps Into Fight Over Foreign Programming Disclosures On Radio. – Inside Radio

After a federal appeals court stymied efforts by the Federal Communications Commission to require radio stations to do more legwork to verify a programming provider is not tied to a foreign government, the FCC is getting some help from Capitol Hill. A bipartisan group of House and Senate members have introduced a bill that would require radio stations to verify the source of the programming in what they claim would ensure broadcasters accurately disclose the identity of foreign sponsors on the airwaves.
The bill titled the Identifying Propaganda on Our Airwaves Act (H.R.9180) was introduced in the House by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and in the Senate by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). It follows a similar outline to what the FCC has already proposed. If it becomes law, the bill would require radio stations to verify whether the programming was paid for or furnished by a foreign governmental entity. Stations would need to do a background check whenever the lease agreement is initially signed, as well as when it is renewed. Television stations would not be subject to the same rules.
“The American people deserve to know when radio programming they hear on public airwaves is foreign government-funded propaganda,” said Eshoo, who has been leading the charge on foreign disclosures as radio stations in recent years have leased airtime to programmers with ties to the Russian and Chinese government. “Our legislation unambiguously grants the FCC the authority to require broadcasters to conduct reasonable diligence to identify foreign agents and their shell companies so Americans will know who is funding the information on our public airwaves,” Eshoo said.
By giving the FCC the authority to require disclosure of this foreign propaganda, Schatz said their hope is they would not only improve programming transparency but also help stop foreign governments from trying to lease time on U.S. radio and television.
Earlier this month the Commission unanimously launched a rulemaking proposal (MB Docket No. 20-299) that would, among other things, require a new certification procedure for stations to demonstrate that the appropriate inquiries have been made in determining whether a foreign governmental entity has sponsored the programming. It would require stations to certify they have informed the programming provider who is leasing time on the radio or TV station of the foreign sponsorship identification rules and obtained — or sought to obtain — a certification from the entity that states whether or not it is a foreign governmental entity. The proposal also looks to establish standardized certification language for stations and programming providers to use.
The Commission’s rulemaking is a do-over after a federal appeals court in July struck down the FCC’s first attempt. The court agreed with broadcasters and said the FCC had “no authority to impose that verification requirement.” The rules that were adopted with bipartisan unanimity last year would have required stations to check a federal database of entities registered as foreign agents before putting the entity on the air. In its newest effort, the FCC said it would comply with the court decision, in part because it would not require broadcasters to engage in any “investigation” regarding the programming provider’s status.
FCC Democrats Support Bill
Efforts to bring new transparency to foreign programmers already have had bipartisan support on the Commission. The FCC’s two Republican members have not yet said whether they back the bill introduced in Congress, but FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioner Geoffrey Stark both say they would welcome the help.
“The principle that the public has a right to know the identity of those who solicit their support is a fundamental and long-standing tenet of broadcasting,” said Rosenworcel. “Consumers deserve to trust that public airwaves aren’t being leased without their knowledge to foreign governments.”
Starks said it is “alarming” that foreign governmental entities are already covertly broadcasting on radio and TV stations. First Amendment free speech concerns have limited the FCC’s ability to keep programming such as the Russian-backed Radio Sputnik off stations including WZHF Washington (1390) and KCXL Kansas City (1140).
“Under current regulations, the New Axis of Evil can use shell companies to broadcast regime-funded propaganda across American airwaves,” said Blackburn. “This legislation will protect consumer transparency by requiring the disclosure of foreign government-sponsored content.”

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