Fox To FCC: Renew Philadelphia TV Station License ‘Without Delay’
By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband
Washington, D.C., Dec. 5, 2023 – Fox Television Stations is urging the Federal Communications Commission to renew the license of its Philadelphia TV station “without delay,” claiming opponents have turned the renewal into a quarrel over issues that fall outside the scope of the agency’s review.
Fox opponents want the license yanked after Fox paid $787.5 million to settle a lawsuit that alleged that false reporting by Fox News Channel – a non-broadcast channel – defamed Dominion Voting Systems by saying the company’s vote-counting system was rigged against President Donald Trump.
“Put simply, for so long as Fox 29 Philadelphia’s license renewal application remains pending, this group of individuals and associated entities will continue to use Commission processes as a forum for litigating matters well outside of the scope of the Communications Act,” Fox lawyers at Covington & Burling said in a Dec. 4 letter to the FCC.
The challenge to Fox 29 Philadelphia’s license was initiated in July and has involved demands for thousands of documents related to the Dominion litigation. Fox has raised First Amendment objections to the effort to deny license renewal.
“Yet no matter how many filings they make, it will not change the law governing Fox 29 Philadelphia’s license renewal application. Consistent with that law, and to discourage continued and future misuse of the license renewal process, the Commission should grant Fox 29 Philadelphia’s license renewal application without delay,” Fox lawyers wrote.
The FCC has the authority to adopt and enforce regulations as to “the citizenship, character, and financial, technical, and other qualifications of the applicant” to operate a TV station.
In challenging the renewal of Fox 29 Philadelphia, the Media and Democracy Project (MAD) cited the Dominion litigation and the judge’s written order finding, based on voluminous record evidence, that Fox repeatedly presented false news. MAD claimed that Fox violated FCC policy regarding a licensee’s character qualification. MAD said Fox was unfit to continue holding broadcast licenses.
Among the prominent individuals assisting the Fox 29 Philadelphia license challenge were Preston Padden, a senior Fox official in the 1990s; former Republican FCC Chairman Alfred Sikes; former Democratic FCC Commssioner Ervin Duggan; and former Weekly Standard editor and Fox News contributor Bill Kristol.
Padden alleged that challenging a Fox TV license is relevant because falsehoods on Fox News Channel were repeated in part by Fox News Sunday, which airs on Fox TV stations.
MAD is seeking an evidentiary hearing at the FCC that would require Fox to turn over documents related to the Dominion settlement – a production demand that Fox has previously dismissed as not concerning “conduct relevant to the Commission’s review of Fox 29 Philadelphia’s application to continue to broadcast and serve the public.”
MAD describes itself as a “non-partisan, all-volunteer, grassroots civic membership organization fighting for a more informative and pro-democracy media operating in the public interest.”
According to the FCC, “all broadcast station licenses granted by the FCC last for a term of eight years. All television station licenses are scheduled to expire between 2020 and 2023,” presumably including Fox 29 Philadelphia (WTXF-TV).
According to Fox, the company “owns and operates 29 full power broadcast television stations in the U.S. These include stations located in 14 of the top 15 largest designated market areas, or DMAs.”
This article was updated on Dec. 6, 2023 at 10:30 a.m. to clarify the basis of MAD's challenge to Fox 29's license renewal.