Padden: FCC Can Consider Character Issues Away From Broadcasting In Fox License Renewal

Jan 31, 2024

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Jan.31, 2024 – The man trying to derail a Fox Corp. TV station license renewal claims that alleged false reporting by corporate sibling Fox News Channel about the 2020 presidential election can be taken into account by federal regulators.

Former Fox Executive Preston Padden, in a filing today with the Federal Communications Commission, said the agency in considering the character of a TV station licensee seeking renewal is allowed to evaluate the licensee’s conduct elsewhere.

Padden’s point: Damaging disclosures about Fox executives regarding Fox News Channel’s reporting on the 2020 election – details of which came out in the Dominion Voting Systems defamation case – can be used to impeach the character of company leaders and deny license renewal.

“… I respectfully submit that the Murdochs and Fox are simply flat wrong in arguing that their actions in businesses other than the television stations are not relevant to evaluation of their character for broadcast licensing purposes,” Padden’s filing said.

Padden, along with the Media and Democracy Project, is urging the FCC to revoke the license of Fox 29 (WTXF) in Philadelphia over Fox News Channel’s 2020 election coverage that included allegations yet to be proven that voting technology companies Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic flipped votes to hand the election to President Joe Biden.

Fox settled the Dominion case last year for $787.5 million. Last week, a Manhattan Supreme Court judge ruled that Smartmatic’s $2.7 billion defamation suit against Fox Corp. can proceed.

The FCC has not issued a decision on the renewal of Fox 29. TV station licenses run for eight years.

Yesterday, Fox attorneys in a letter to the FCC cited several factors outside the operation of a TV station – such as “any conviction for misconduct constituting a felony” – that the FCC has historically considered. Fox said none pertained to a dispute over news coverage by an affiliated cable TV network.

Fox’s legal team at Covington & Burling called on the FCC to adhere to precedent and prevent the Fox 29 review from spinning out of control to the detriment of all TV stations when up for license renewal.

“The latest filing illustrates the perilous regulatory environment that MAD would like to bring about,” Fox told the FCC, referring to a Jan. 25 Padden 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 support of his analysis, Padden cited a FCC license renewal in 2013 involving a Fox station in which the agency said it was “not convinced by Fox’s argument that we must confine our review of character solely to actions that took place at the station.”

Padden said although the Fox station was renewed, “the point is that Fox is completely wrong on their argument regarding FCC policy and character evaluation.”

Padden also reiterated a previous point that Fox News Channel’s 2020 election coverage is relevant to the license renewal because the cable channel’s reporting was broadcast on Fox-owned stations, including WTXF.

Padden, a senior Fox official in the 1990s, is leading the effort on the license fight. He has been joined by several prominent individuals, including former Republican FCC Chairman Alfred Sikes; former Democratic FCC Commssioner Ervin Duggan; and former Weekly Standard editor and Fox News contributor Bill Kristol.