I got a voicemail out of the blue from the lead FCC attorney working on my Freedom of Information Act request into how the agency makes judgments on journalism. Hard to know what precipitated it, but it came a week to the day after the FCC dinged a Las Vegas TV station six figures for actively constructing fake news reports on car dealership closeout sales.
Back in 2009, Journal Broadcast Corporation’s KTNV-TV in Las Vegas ran a series of “special reports” on the liquidation sales of auto dealerships formatted like news stories, aired immediately adjacent to the station’s weekend newscasts, with a “staff person…posing as a journalist” in each one. Surprise: the dealerships paid for the “coverage.” After a five-year investigation, Journal and the FCC entered into a consent decree released on Friday that has Journal fessing up to the deception and making a voluntary contriubtion of $115,000 to the U.S. Treasury.
According to the decree, the caper was the brainchild of Vegas-area advertising agency, and the complainant was another TV station in the market. It originally alleged that three stations were involved in the pay-for-coverage business, but the FCC’s only dimed one of them. Between May and August 2009, KTNV ran 27 of these “special reports.”
It’s been nearly three months since I last heard from the Federal Communications Commission about the agency’s determinations on the journalistic legitimacy of a news organization I founded more than a decade ago.
For those just tuning in: earlier this year, the FCC fined a Chicago radio station more than $40,000 for airing newscasts produced by Workers Independent News. The FCC, in historically unprecedented fashion, categorized WIN as something other than journalism and admonished the offending station for deceiving its listeners.
I filed a FOIA request to get a sense of just how the FCC came to this determination, and what the implications of its decision might be on other independent media outlets seeking public access to the airwaves. The FCC, to put it mildly, has been less than helpful.
Several radio stations in small markets throughout the United States are licking their wounds after suffering cyber-intrusions.
The alarm was first sounded by a cluster of radio stations in Louisiana on October 16. When the morning crews arrived, they found they had no access to the stations’ automation systems or music libraries. Instead, the data on their computers had been encrypted and frozen…and then they began to receive e-mails asking them to pay hundreds of dollars in order to set their machines free.
The stations’ owner reports that instead of paying the ransom demand, they’ve reported the intrusions to the police and plan to rebuild their systems from scratch. It will cost “tens of thousands of dollars” to undo the damage that the malicious software has inflicted, and they apparently keep finding more compromises as they continue their damage assessment.
Then last week, stations in Arkansas and Virginia announced that they, too had been infected by software that scrambled several of their computer systems and demanded payment to restore them. And this week, a cluster of stations in Michigan belatedly reported that they suffered the same sort of attack in September.
The nation’s largest radio conglomerate is the newest target in a growing crusade against internship exploitation. Plaintiff Liane Arias alleges her internship at Clear Channel consisted of menial administrative tasks and staffing promotional events—things other employees would have done had her free labor not been available, and a far cry from the educational experience her internship promised. More importantly, she’s asking for class-action status for her case.
Arias is represented by an NYC-based law firm that specializes in labor and employment law and is making a name for itself in unpaid internship litigation, spearheading a similar complaint against SiriusXM satellite radio. This is just the latest in a series of lawsuits filed by former interns against media companies in the last few years: the floodgates opened in 2012 when unpaid interns for PBS’ Charlie Rose Show settled a class-action lawsuit. Then, in June of 2013, a judge ruled that the Fox Searchlight movie studio violated labor law in its use of unpaid interns.