Obama’s FCC Plans Sale of U.S. Media to Foreigners

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By: Jerry Kenney
Accuracy in Media

Special to Accuracy in Media

If you think it’s hard to get unbiased news from radio and TV now, just wait until your local broadcast stations and other media properties are owned and operated by the Chinese, Russian or Mexican governments, or the Muslim Brotherhood.

Amazingly, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to make it easier for foreigners to buy and run local radio and TV stations. The federal entity that monitors the media is proposing more foreign ownership of the U.S. media in the name of “diversity.”

By law, foreigners currently can only own up to 25 percent of a TV or radio station business unless they can show on a case by case basis that they have “special considerations” which demonstrate that granting them a broadcast license would be in the American public’s interest. Only then can the FCC waive the 25 percent ownership cap that is imposed by law.

The process can be time consuming and present a high hurdle that few have overcome. Rupert Murdoch is one of a small number of media owners who successfully jumped those hurdles, and he did so in part by changing his citizenship from Australian to American. But now the FCC wants to remove those limits altogether. The FCC wants to routinely grant licenses to foreigners just like they do for the mom & pop broadcasters next door. Essentially, they want to fast track the approval process for foreign ownership. They recently issued a public notice (GNDocket No. 15-236) and they are asking for comments from the public about their plans to do so.

The change is technically titled, “Review of Foreign Ownership Policies for Broadcast, Common Carrier and Aeronautical Radio Licensees under Section 310(b)(4) of the Communications Act of 1934, as Amended.”

What this means is that foreigners will be encouraged by our own government to buy U.S. media properties that they can use for their own propaganda purposes.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said that the change would “establish a presumption that the applications (from foreigners) should be granted, thereby shifting the burden on the Commission to reject.” In other words, the FCC would assume that a foreign owner would automatically air programming that would be in the American public’s interest unless someone could prove otherwise. Another high hurdle but this time it’s one the American public has to jump.

Of course, once a license is granted, any broadcasting of distortions, deletions, or disinformation simply becomes “protected political speech” and would be nearly impossible to use for revoking a license. At that point, little will stop the propaganda machines from running full tilt. If you need an example, just watch Vladimir Putin’s Russia Today (RT) on any of the 30 non-commercial and educational taxpayer-supported public TV stations that carry a television programming service called MHz Networks Worldview. Those stations routinely defend Putin’s spewing of anti-American propaganda and outright lies as merely protected speech.

While some might call it treason for the FCC to grease the wheels of bureaucracy to encourage the foreign takeover of such a vital and fundamental American industry as local broadcasting, its supporters simply think that it’s good business, a way to get foreign “investment” into a struggling industry. And that is how it is being sold to the American public.

In twisted logic that can only come from Washington, D.C., the FCC claims that this influx of new “foreign capital” will somehow benefit females and minorities who are current broadcasters or who want to become broadcasters but lack access to capital. Exactly the opposite is true. Since foreigners will be able to hold licenses in their own names, they will no longer need a “figurehead” U.S. citizen to be in nominal control and hold a majority of the equity and/or voting ownership.

Furthermore, minority and female owned companies will then have to compete with foreign “investor/broadcasters” when they attempt to buy stations and many will be priced out of the market as the foreign broadcasters drive the purchase prices higher. Many minorities who currently own stations will very likely be enticed to sell at the higher valuations, thus resulting in fewer minority voices on the air.

Other then foreign interlopers, the main beneficiaries, however, will not be the American public or minorities and women who want to get into the broadcasting business but rather those who currently hold broadcast licenses. Many are mega-corporations. After all, money is really the heart of the matter. Current broadcasters will have many more cash buyers for their stations, stations that are in decline because of competition from the Internet.

The media took note of the $500 million windfall Al Gore cashed in on from the Middle Eastern petro-dictatorship of Qatar in the sale of his failed Current TV cable channel. The channel later became Al Jazeera America. No FCC license was required to transfer Gore’s cable channel so it sailed through.  So removing the FCC imposed barriers to broadcast station ownership by foreigners is the only thing standing in the way of broadcasters cashing in, just like Gore.

As for the new buyers, they may not care if they ever make money on the stations. Reuters recently reported that a Chinese businessman with ties to the communist Chinese government buys large blocks of airtime on multiple radio stations in the U.S.  They reported that “Many of these stations do not run ads and so do not appear to be commercially motivated.” But they do report the “news” from Beijing’s perspective.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires that those who act on behalf of foreign governments when trying to influence public opinion register with the Department of Justice and must disclose to their audience who they work for. The Obama Justice Department has chosen to ignore that law in the cases of RT and Al Jazeera. I personally lodged a complaint with the DOJ regarding Russia Today and Al Jazeera only to receive a copy of the law and a bureaucratic “Dear John” letter. Even if the DOJ were to ever attempt to enforce FARA, the propagandists are well versed at using multiple organizations and front men to hamper any would-be investigations. So it would require some effort. But the new proposed FCC policy of selling American media properties to foreigners can only make things far worse. Such a change would embolden foreign propagandists to be even more aggressive and entrenched in their campaigns to influence American public opinion.

FCC Commissioner O’Rielly promises that the commission will “preserve national security protections.” I don’t think I need to elaborate on the reliability of promises made by Obama and his appointees. The administration’s lack of enforcement of FARA is a good indicator of how vigorously they would preserve national security when doling out broadcast licenses to foreigners.

In a 2013 FCC ruling on the subject of foreign ownership, four of the five current Commissioners are on record. Their statements include:

  • “Promoting a regulatory framework that does not inhibit the flow of capital to the US communications sector is an important goal of Commission policy.”Commissioner Wheeler
  • “I am pleased to say, we clarify the Commission’s policies for foreign investment in broadcast licensees by signaling that the Commission is open to considering proposed foreign investments in broadcasting on a case-by-case basis.” Commissioner Clyburn
  • “The Commission has repeatedly recognized that foreign investment can be an ‘important source of financing…innovation, economic growth and job creation’” [for broadcasters]. Commissioner Pai
  • “U.S. broadcasters and foreign investors should know this Commission is now open to considering foreign entities holding capital stock of companies that control broadcast licenses exceeding 25 percent, perhaps up to a high of 100 percent.” Commissioner O’Rielly

Sadly, without a huge outcry from the public, passage of this policy looks like a done deal.

This FCC proposal was apparently spearheaded by a group called “The Coalition for Broadcast Investment.” According to the group’s lawyers, the members include some of the biggest media companies on the planet: CBS, Disney, Hearst Television, Clear Channel (iHeartMedia), and Univision. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which describes itself as the voice for the nation’s radio and television broadcasters, also backs the proposal.

That might explain why you haven’t heard much about this on your evening news. The broadcasters of the news are the ones with the most to gain monetarily by keeping a low profile on this story.

By the way, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, married into a family that owns a large part of iHeartMedia. According to Bloomberg Business, iHeartMedia owned 858 radio stations as of December 2014 and is reportedly the largest owner of radio stations in the U.S.

I fear that most members of Congress who have not married into the broadcasting business would rather not pick a fight with the media giants by trying to stop this.

For my conservative friends, if you too are wondering why you too haven’t heard about this story on Fox News, just Google the problems that Rupert Murdoch had with the FCC regarding station ownership and his citizenship. It is an issue that broadcasters on the left, right and center seem to agree on. What’s good for their bottom line is good for the U.S.

Abraham Lincoln said, “He who molds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions.” A license to broadcast to the public over public airwaves has far reaching long term national security implications. It cannot be compared in any way to the international trade of widgets, cars or consumer electronics, as some would like us to believe.

Other than money, what do these foreign owners have to contribute to us? Can Qatar or Russia teach us anything about freedom of speech, or freedom of the press?

If this proposal becomes FCC policy, public sentiment in the U.S. will progressively be molded by forces that owe no allegiance to the U.S. or even the truth, and many may also wish to do us harm. The roles before the FCC will be reversed with the propagandists essentially being guaranteed a license to use America’s airwaves to subvert America itself. The FCC will be legally forced to assume that anyone from anywhere who wants a license is automatically our friend unless someone can prove otherwise.

Such a policy change will undermine our First Amendment rights of free speech. Just look at the RT reporters who have quit because they were prohibited from telling the truth and ordered to spread lies.

Freedom of speech is meaningless when a foreign licensee of a broadcast station owns the mute button.

  • You must submit comments to the FCC by December 21st (Identify Docket No. 15–236).

Use any of the following methods:

Jerry Kenney, a television producer from Port Orange, Florida, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice alleging that foreign channels RT and Al Jazeera are both violating the law by not disclosing in their propaganda broadcasts in the U.S. that they are agents of foreign powers. He has also alleged violations of FCC rules that have given Al Jazeera and RT access to taxpayer-funded public television stations. He recently lodged a complaint alleging that non-commercial educational public TV stations, which are prohibited by law from running commercials for American businesses, are running infomercials for Chinese and Vietnamese businesses.

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