The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

09 November 2007

FCC Rules Against Socialists On Talk Radio License Revocation


Bid To Shut Down Conservative Talk Rebuffed

A two- year effort by a socialist youth group to shut down a San Francisco- based conservative talk radio station has been rejected by the FCC, according to reports emerging late Friday.

Aided by older allies that included the San Francisco Board Of Supervisors, the East Bay- based Youth Media Council formally petitioned the FCC to deny conservative KNEW-AM a renewal of its license to broadcast.

And in a twist, the hip- hop advocacy group also sought to shut down several of KNEW's sister stations, including KYLD-FM and KMEL-FM, both of which air music.

In making their case, the young "progressives" tried to claim that Savage, Katz and others had sought to incite violence, especially against bicycle activists, via their on- air commentaries.

While their primary demand may have been denied, they did succeed in convincing the FCC to fine station owner Clear Channel Communications a total of $20,000 for obscure technical violations that were alleged in the YMC's petition.

At the time of the filing, the activists cited anti- San Francisco comments by Bill O'Reilly as well as others by Michael Savage and Jeff Katz as motivation for their complaints. From Indymedia:

On 11/8/05, Bill O'Reilly went on KNEW-910AM and used the public airwaves to condone a terrorist strike on San Francisco. He then suggested Al Qaeda specifically blow up Coit Tower - which is dedicated as a memorial to fallen firefighters. TAKE ACTION NOW - DENY KNEW'S LICENSE RENEWAL: Go to to print, sign and mail an Informal Objection to the FCC and the Station Owner before November 30, 2005.

On 11/8/05, Bill O'Reilly went on KNEW-910AM and used the public airwaves to condone a terrorist strike on San Francisco. He then suggested Al Qaeda specifically blow up Coit Tower - which is dedicated as a memorial to fallen firefighters.

O'Reilly: "And if Al Qaeda comes in here and blows you up, we're not gonna do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You wanna blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead."

O'Reilly's comments on local station KNEW-910AM were roundly criticized by Mayor Gavin Newsom, Supervisors Daly and Peskin, John Hanley (President of the San Francisco Firefighters Union Local 798), local journalists at KRON, the SF Chronicle, CBS-5 and many community activists.

We need to make the FCC aware of Clear Channel/KNEW's pattern of broadcasting anti-American hate speech on the public airwaves. There is a clear and consistent pattern of abuse of the public trust at KNEW910-AM, as can be seen in this 'Informal Objection' and the related 'Petition to Deny,' submitted to the FCC on November 1, 2005.

And from Oakland Tribune coverage dated 26 November 2005:

O'Reilly, during his nationally syndicated "The Radio Factor" show on Nov. 8, berated the city for its ballot measure urging public high schools and college campuses to keep out military recruiters. The comments caused an angry backlash in the Bay Area.

where O'Reilly's show airs on KNEW 910-AM, owned by Clear Channel Communications.

Clear Channel's San Francisco office was closed Friday.

KNEW's Web site notes Clear Channel also owns KQKE 960-AM, the liberal Air America network's Bay Area affiliate; it also says any comments on the content of O'Reilly's program should be directed to the Westwood One radio network's New York City headquarters.

O'Reilly's comments added fuel to the fire. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday citing the Nov. 1 petition as well as O'Reilly's Nov. 8 diatribe, and urging the FCC to "closely examine" KNEW's renewal application.

But in the FCC's newly- released findings, it rejected the argument that KNEW's license should be revoked based on the content of its hosts. Further, it used the youth group's own data against it in one key instance:

15. Further, we find that both the KMEL Study and the KNEW Study only analyze a small sampling of each station’s programming broadcast over the preceding license term – approximately three weeks out of an eight-year license term.

Moreover, neither the studies nor the petitions filed by YMC identify any criteria for what constitutes “public affairs” programming, nor do they appear to take into account the licensees’ local news, weather and traffic broadcasts, all of which address issues of local concern. Accordingly, YMC failed to show that the broadcasts reviewed are representative of the stations’ overall efforts to address issues of importance to the Bay Area. However, even if we were to accept the validity of

YMC’s studies, their reported results do not show that the stations’ programming was devoid of discussion about local issues. On the contrary, for example, the KNEW Study, undertaken according to criteria developed and applied by YMC, acknowledges that Jeff Katz addressed local issues in 28% of the programs studied and local events in 45% of the programs studied. Accordingly, we find that YMC’s own data shows that KNEW broadcast more than a “nominal level” of issue-responsive programming, even in the limited amount of programming that YMC analyzed.

And, in the FCC's view, the bottom line is this:

20. Moreover, there is no statutory provision or Rule that directly prohibits the viewpoints expressed in the Jeffrey Katz and Michael Savage programs described in note 32, supra, that allegedly incite violence. Consequently, the only question before us is whether the broadcasts raise a substantial question about the licensee’s basic qualifications. In light of Commission precedent on point, we find that no question regarding the licensee's basic qualifications is raised. Indeed, in an enforcement action, the Enforcement Bureau analyzed broadcasts which, according to the objectors in that case, advocated violence against bicyclists.

There, it stated:

Commission action in response to an allegation that a broadcast should be characterized as an 'incitement' to violence or illegal action meeting the "clear and present danger" test is limited to situations where a local court of competent jurisdiction has made such a determination. See Cattle Country Broadcasting, 58 R.R.2d 1109, 1113 (1985); see also Brandenburg v. Ohio ("Brandenburg"), 395 U.S. 444, 447 (1969) (speech becomes illegal advocacy when "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action."). This aspect of the test requires a court to "make its own inquiry into the imminence and magnitude of the danger said to flow from the particular utterance and then to balance the character of the evil, as well as its likelihood, against the need for free and unfettered expression." Landmark Communications, Inc. v. Virginia, 435 U.S. 829, 843 (1975).

... Under Brandenburg, any determination that particular speech poses a "clear and present danger of serious substantive evil" presupposes a familiarity with the circumstances, issues, and concerns of the community where such speech was heard, a familiarity which the Commission, in most cases, does not have and cannot practically obtain. Local authorities responsible for keeping the peace and enforcing the law are better positioned to know and assess the specific and unique circumstances in the ... community and, thus, to determine whether the Brandenburg test has been met."

21. The information before us reflects that no local court of competent jurisdiction has found that any of the broadcasts at issue here met the "clear and present danger" test. Indeed, neither the Renewal Applications nor any of the petitions or informal objections filed reflect that any civil or criminal action of any kind has been brought against Clear Channel for the complained-of broadcasts. Viewing these circumstances in light of the clear precedent regarding treatment of broadcast speech that allegedly advocates or incites violence, we conclude that that YMC has failed to raise a substantial and material question of fact which establishes a prima facie case supporting the denial of the Renewal Applications.

In other words, it isn't our job to police local airwaves in this manner and besides, there weren't any riots.

Interestingly, in the two years since this petition was filed, the left has shifted its strategy on this front, perhaps recognizing the difficulty in shutting down stations via license revocations.

This year, for example, we've seen a concerted effort by the Soros- funded left to remove conservative talk hosts through public pressure campaigns against owners and advertisers.

Clearly, just since 2005, the left has become far more sophisticated in its efforts to exterminate speech it opposes. Two short years from now, will they have far more to show for their efforts?

FOR New England regional talk radio updates, see our other site.

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