Founding President of Fox Broadcasting Company, Jamie Kellner, Joins Growing Coalition Seeking FCC Hearing into FOX Broadcast License
New filings argue FOX cannot be relied upon to deal truthfully with the public, election lies “shock the conscience,” and Murdochs lack character to remain public interest broadcast licensees
Today, three blockbuster filings were submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in support of the Media and Democracy Project’s (MAD) petition challenging the broadcast license renewal application for FOX Corp-owned television station FOX 29 Philadelphia (WTXF).
The filings include MAD’s formal reply to Fox Television Stations (FTS) opposition submitted earlier this month. MAD is joined by a growing bipartisan coalition filing informal objections calling for an FCC hearing to fully consider the fitness of FOX Corporation (FOX) and the Murdochs to continue as licensees of the public airwaves.
Informal objections were filed by former PBS President and FCC Commissioner Ervin S. Duggan, former Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol, and founding President of Fox Broadcasting Company Jamie Kellner.
Media and Democracy Project Formal Reply
The lies about the 2020 election that aired on Fox News, authorized at the highest levels of FOX’s corporate structure to retain FOX’s conservative viewer base and reverse failing ratings, represent a severe breach of the FCC policy on licensee character qualifications, MAD reaffirmed today in a legal response to their effort to call for an evidentiary hearing into the matter.
In the reply, MAD took the opportunity to fact check and debunk various “strawman” arguments made by FTS in defense of WTXF. MAD argues that not only does the FCC have the authority to convene a hearing, but it has an obligation to do so built on decades of precedent. According to MAD, “Never in the history of the Commission has the agency been confronted with a license renewal applicant whose parent was found by a court of law to have repeatedly presented false news.”
On whether MAD has made the case that FOX is not qualified to be an FCC licensee and the policy violations are sufficient to require an evidentiary hearing, the filing stated:
“FOX knew – from the Murdochs on down – that Fox News was reporting false and dangerous misinformation about the 2020 Presidential election, but FOX was more concerned about short-term ratings and market share than the long-term damage caused by its spreading disinformation.”
“What is astounding is the Opposition’s [FOX’s] utter failure to reckon with the findings of false statements in Dominion that raise substantial and material questions of FOX’s character qualifications to be an FCC licensee.”
"FOX has demonstrated a willingness to lie to preserve its corporate profits. FOX’s lies concerning the outcome of the 2020 election caused a great injury to the American people and the institutions of our democracy. FOX’s willingness to lie demonstrates a fatal character flaw."
Responding to accusations that holding FOX accountable violates the First Amendment, MAD writes:
“This is not a First Amendment case. Rather the issue here concerns a corporation that, with the full knowledge and approval of its management, lied to millions of Americans. The question before the Commission is not whether FOX had a right to lie, rather it is about the consequences of those lies and the impact on FOX’s qualifications to remain an FCC licensee.”
Beyond citing FOX’s willingness to lie as demonstrating a fatal character flaw, MAD highlights numerous instances of “material misrepresentations” in the WTXF renewal application itself. These violations and the station’s false certifications in FCC licensee records are “further evidenc[e of] its propensity for untruthfulness and FOX’s poor character.”
MAD ends its filing by saying, “[a]s such, the Communications Act obligates the Commission to designate these vital questions to be answered in an evidentiary hearing.”
A copy of the MAD’s formal reply to FOX’s opposition is available here.
Duggan-Kristol Informal Objection Supplement
Ervin S. Duggan and William Kristol joined MAD in responding to the “gaping holes” found throughout FOX’s opposition.
The media veterans reiterate their call for an evidentiary hearing, saying:
“Every application for a broadcast license renewal is not only a test for the applicant, but also for the FCC itself. In considering this application, the Commission inevitably will reveal whether it is serious about its regulations, or merely pretending; whether its standards are genuine, or mere shibboleths; whether its regulatory spine is strong, or made of mush.”
The filing points out that the FCC Media Bureau already refuted FOX’s argument in 2012 that the parent company has no involvement in a station’s operations:
“During the last television renewal cycle in 2012, FTS argued that the conduct of its parent company and of affiliates not directly involved in station operations cannot impact a station’s license renewal application, even if that conduct violates the FCC’s policy statements on licensee character. The Fox Reply takes essentially the same tack. But since the Media Bureau went out of its way to say that it did not endorse that position ten years ago, FTS now clothes its position in a new cloak of legalisms and technicalities that have no more merit than its previous bald assertion.”
On FOX’s First Amendment defense, the pair said:
“[D]espite the Fox Reply’s strenuous efforts to obscure the point through First Amendment rhetoric, the character and public-interest standards of the FCC are in fact standards of behavior, not speech. And in invoking the Commission’s character standards, MAD through its petition is asking the FCC to weigh FOX’s behavior, not asking the Commission to evaluate or sanction the content of its speech.”
Duggan and Kristol say this of FOX’s claim that Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch’s role in perpetuating election falsehoods has no bearings over their ownership of WTXF:
“If a broadcast licensee shows poor judgment or questionable character in managing a business that -- but for FCC licensure -- is identical in core objectives and operational particulars to the operation of a broadcast station, that bad judgment and suspect character should speak loudly to the Commission. In fact, it should speak much louder than the direct licensee misconduct in more attenuated contexts, or employees’ misconduct in unrelated businesses, that have provoked the FCC to designate hearings or seek to deny license renewals in the past.”
A copy of the Duggan-Kristol informal objection supplemental is available here.
Jamie Kellner Informal Objection
Former Fox Broadcasting Company (FBC) President Jamie Kellner joined others in calling on the FCC to designate a hearing. Kellner is a well-respected former television executive who was present at the creation of Fox Broadcasting Company.
He was hired by Rupert Murdoch in 1986 to serve as the broadcasting arm’s founding president and chief operating officer and helped FOX establish a foothold as America’s long-sought fourth over-the-air broadcast television network.
In his filing Kellner says, “[m]y amazing colleagues and I worked hard to establish the Fox brand in television and to help Rupert Murdoch become an established force in American Network television.” He goes on to say:
“While I was President of FBC we started a news division that provided daily feeds of national and international news stories for the Fox-owned and affiliated television stations for inclusion in their locally produced newscasts. Unlike the news feeds provided today by Fox News Channel, our news feeds did not prominently feature advocates like Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell spouting nonsensical lies about a Presidential election.”
A copy of the Kellner informal objection is available here.
The Media and Democracy Project: MAD is a non-partisan, all-volunteer, grassroots civic membership organization fighting for a more informative and pro-democracy media operating in the public interest. MAD aims to improve our national discourse so that American voters can engage in informed decision-making. As part of that goal, MAD has an interest in the responsibility of journalists and media to report fully, accurately, and fairly on the electoral process and the outcome of elections. Additional information is available at www.MediaAndDemocracyProject.org.
Ervin S. Duggan is a veteran of the Lyndon Johnson White House, a former Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, and former President of PBS.
William Kristol is a veteran political analyst and commentator. He served in senior positions in the Ronald Reagan administration and the George H.W. Bush White House. For two decades, he edited The Weekly Standard magazine, and is now editor at large of The Bulwark and a director of the educational and advocacy group, Defending Democracy Together.
Jamie Kellner was the Founding President of Fox Broadcasting Company, having also founded The WB Network and served as CEO of Turner Broadcasting System, overseeing networks like CNN, TNT, and TBS.