Fox To FCC: Disregard Latest Philadelphia TV License Flare-Up

Jan 31, 2024

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Jan. 30, 2024 – Fox Corp. is calling for the prompt renewal of its TV station license in Philadelphia, saying recent attempts to influence the Federal Communications Commission’s review are legally defective in falling outside the agency’s policies and traditions in deciding the merits of a renewal.

Fox’s lawyers pushed for FCC action in a letter today supportive of renewal of the license of Fox 29 Philadelphia (WTXF-TV). Fox claimed that the opposition’s reliance on court proceedings involving Fox News Channel had no legal bearing on the FCC’s renewal of a broadcast licensee.

Leading the Fox 29 challenge are the Media and Democracy Project, former Fox Executive Preston Padden and other prominent individuals.

“Fortunately, MAD’s law is not the law of the [FCC] or Congress. A straightforward application of applicable law makes clear that Fox 29 Philadelphia’s pending license renewal application merits grant. [Fox] encourages the [FCC’s Media] Bureau to move quickly and decisively to do so and bring this proceeding to a close,” the Fox letter said.

In a footnote, Fox’s letter quoted FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel saying that the agency licenses TV stations and not cable stations.

“Consistent with the Chairwoman’s recent remarks, a broadcast license renewal proceeding is not a venue for adjudicating cable network content,” Fox said.

In a Jan. 25 filing, Padden said the FCC needed to consider as part of the Fox 29 renewal that a Manhattan Supreme Court judge allowed Smartmatic’s $2.7 billion defamation suit to proceed. Smartmatic claims that Fox News falsely reported that the company’s voting technology rigged the 2020 election against President Donald Trump.

Injecting the unresolved Smartmatic case – which involves a non-broadcast journalistic outlet in Fox News – is inconsistent with decades-old FCC license review standards and could create a slippery slope that makes future TV stations license renewals an unnecessary ordeal, Fox said.

“The latest filing illustrates the perilous regulatory environment that MAD would like to bring about,” Fox told the FCC, referring to Padden’s filing. “It is one in which any broadcaster could find its license renewal in jeopardy based solely on unadjudicated allegations made by a third party in an unrelated civil proceeding with no connection to the narrow list of enumerated grounds that the [FCC] has found potentially relevant to a licensee’s character qualifications.”

In an email, Padden said the FCC is authorized to examine misconduct by a TV station licensee that occurred outside the operation of a TV station.

“Fox argues that non-broadcast actions don’t count toward broadcast character eligibility – in effect saying that their corporate policy is to lie to the American people about Presidential elections only on their cable channels,” Padden said.

Padden claims that linking Fox News Channel to the Fox 29 station renewal is relevant because Fox News’ 2020 election coverage aired on Fox broadcasts stations during the Fox News Sunday program.

“WTXF airs Fox News Channel content every Sunday morning and uses daily ‘feeds’ of Fox News Channel national/international reports in the stations’ daily local news programs,” Padden added.

Prominent First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams asserted in a Jan. 22 FCC filing that the agency has “ample basis” to revoke Fox’s Philadelphia license based on Fox News’ “willful decision to repeatedly broadcast false information about the election …”

MAD last summer initiated the Fox 29 license challenge over the revelations in the Dominion Voting Systems defamation case, which Fox settled for $787.5 million.

Fox claims the Fox 29 license challenge “disregards binding [FCC] precedent" and represents an effort to “silence a longstanding outlet of local news, weather, and other locally originated programming to people throughout the Philadelphia market.”