FCC to WIN: You’re Not News, Get Over It

Sad but true: last Friday, the FCC finally responded to my appeal of its denial of my Freedom of Information Act request involving a case in which the agency declared Workers Independent News to not be news.

The dismissal was fairly perfunctory. What I was primarily asking for was the other 5,600+ pages of documentation the agency collected regarding correspondence (both internal and external) and deliberations on the WLS/WIN case (it only released 88 heavily-redacted pages). My primary objective was to discover the identity of the complainant who kicked off this sordid saga, as well as the identities of FCC staff who took the complaint and turned it into libel by official writ. Never before in the history of U.S. broadcast regulation has the FCC made a content determination on the legitimacy of a news organization. Read More

FCC Facilitated Right-Wing Hit Job on Workers Independent News

A year and a half since I tendered my Freedom of Information Act request with the Federal Communications Commission on its disturbing foray into determining the legitimacy of broadcast news outlets, the agency has finally responded. And it was with a big middle finger: of the more than 4,200 pages of documentation the agency identified as related to the case, the FCC released a paltry 88 (embedded at bottom).

The vast majority of this release is meaningless. It includes copies of the official orders in the WLS sponsorship-identification case, copies of the spot-sales contracts Workers Independent News entered into with WLS (it spent more than $33,000 to air its newscasts and feature programs on the station over a three-month period), official correspondence between the FCC and WLS’ attorneys related to the initial complaint inquiry, and some redacted e-mail correspondence between FCC staffers regarding the collection of the $44,000 fine assessed against WLS.

However, what little useful information gleaned from the disclosure only heightens the suspicion that the sponsorship-identification case against WLS was not motivated by the station’s failure to disclose (in a fraction of instances) that Workers Independent News had paid for its airtime, but rather by a right-wing operative seeking to muzzle Workers Independent News on ideological grounds. Read More

FCC FOIA Request in Official Limbo

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. Read More

Don Rumsfeld, A Father of FOIA?

In a recent appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld remarked that he was a cosponsor of the Freedom of Information Act during his 1960s stint in the House of Representatives. This is a claim made, as it was here, to parry a critical question about the Pentagon’s penchant for unjustifiable secrecy.

It was, however, the first time I had actually heard it leave his mouth. Given the other things to come out of there, I was compelled to verify for my own peace of mind. Indeed, S. 1160 was co-sponsored by then-congressman Rumsfeld, who hailed from west-suburban Chicago. He sat on the House’s Committee on Government Operations, through which the bill was unanimously endorsed on its way to a full vote. He also spoke on the House floor in support of it. Read More