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FCC: Radio Hosts May Lie to the Public


On March 10, 2012, Sacramento Media Group member Roger Smith complained to the FCC about the one-sided political talk radio radio on Sacramento's airwaves. He received the following reply from Mark Berlin of the FCC's political division.   Takeaway:  Radio hosts are free to lie to us on our publicly owned airwaves.

This is with respect to your March 10 complaint to the FCC regarding stations KFBK, KSTE, and KGBY, all of which, you state, are licensed to Clear Channel Corp.  You state that each of them will be broadcasting more than nine hours a day of pro-Republican, Democrat-bashing programs, and you feel that this one-sided programming is not in the public interest.

Before I respond to the substance of your complaint, I want to indicate that we have searched our records, and there is no station KGBY that is currently licensed.  It may have been a previous call sign of a station that has since been changed.  Also, Station KFBY-FM in Sacramento and Station KSTE(AM) in Rancho Cordova are not licensed to Clear Channel but, rather, to AMFM Broadcasting Licenses, LLC.

Although the FCC licenses broadcast stations, we have virtually no control over the content of what is aired.  That’s because broadcast stations enjoy freedom of speech under the First Amendment, and the FCC is prohibited by statute from censoring or dictating program content.  The result is that stations are free to air pretty much whatever they want (short of obscenity or indecency) – even if the material is false, misleading, or slanted.  The equal time rule would not apply here, since it pertains only to the voices or photo images of candidates on the air (not discussion by other persons) and, even then, in very limited situations, such as paid political announcements.  If these stations want to air programming that is heavily pro-Republican in its views, they are entitled to do so, and they need not provide any programming with other views.  At one time we did have a policy – the Fairness Doctrine – that would have mandated more even-handed programming, but that has not been enforced since 1987.

That does not mean that members of the listening public are totally without recourse.  We have found that stations are sensitive to public opinion.  If enough people complain about a station’s programming – and particularly if they are part of an organized boycott of station advertisers – the station could very well change its programming policy.

Sincerely,
Mark Berlin
Policy Division (political office)
Media Bureau