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August 28, 2023

Could the false claims of election fraud by FOX News cost local station FOX29 its broadcast license?

Probably not, but in a rare move, the FCC will allow public comment during the renewal the process following a petition that blames WTXF's parent company with 'sowing discord'

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The FCC is allowing the public to comment on a petition to deny FOX 29's broadcast license renewal.

In an uncommon move, the Federal Communications Commission is inviting the public to comment on the petition seeking to deny the broadcast license renewal for Philadelphia's FOX29 station. Typically, license renewals are not "permit-but-disclose," or open for public comment.

"We have concluded that classifying this proceeding as permit-but-disclose would, in this case, permit broader public participation and thereby serve the public interest," the FCC said in a public notice released on Aug. 23.

The broadcast license for FOX29, which is WTXF-TV, was purchased by FOX Television Stations in 1995 and is set to expire in August. During the renewal process, the FCC allows petitions opposing renewals, though it rarely takes them up.

In July, the Media and Democracy Project, a nonpartisan volunteer group, along with several former FOX executives and an ex-FCC official, filed a petition seeking to hold FOX accountable for "its broadcasting of knowingly false narratives about the 2020 (presidential) election" on the FOX News Channel. The petition alleges that a "good deal of that narrative" was also broadcast on FOX29 and FOX's other TV stations.

"FOX News Sunday" is the only FOX News program that FOX29 airs, but the petition notes that many "leading proponents of the false election fraud claims" have appeared on the program.

The FCC does not regulate cable networks like the FOX News, but it does oversee over-the-air broadcast stations like FOX29.

"As an FCC broadcast licensee FOX is bound to broadcast in the public interest, convenience, and necessity," the petition reads. "Instead, it has repeatedly aired false information about election fraud, sowing discord in the country and contributing to harmful and dangerous acts on January 6, 2021."

Helping lead the challenge against the license renewal is Preston Padden, a former FOX Broadcasting Co. executive. His emails with FOX founder Rupert Murdoch became public in a defamation suit, filed by election tech company Dominion Voting Systems, against FOX over baseless claims of election fraud in the 2020 presidential election. To prevent the lawsuit from going to trial, FOX settled the case with Dominion for $787.5 million.

Praising the FCC's decision to welcome public commentary, Padden told The Desk, “This wonderful decision will enable the broad bipartisan group of petitioners to meet with FCC Commissioners and staff and explain their heartfelt hope for an FCC hearing.” 

Supporters for and against the broadcast license renewal may meet with FCC staff members to argue their positions and file comments on the matter online.

The comments that have been filed so far can be viewed online. As of Monday afternoon, more than 30 public comments have been submitted. The submissions include letters of support for FOX29's license renewal from elected leaders in the Philadelphia region, sent in by FOX Television Stations.

In a statement preceding the support letters, lawyers for FOX wrote, "(FOX29's) service should be encouraged, not threatened by baseless license renewal challenges ... The Commission should signal its support for exemplary local news and public service by promptly dismissing the pending Petition to Deny and granting the Station’s pending license renewal application."

NOTE: The headlines and other portions of this article were edited after it was originally published.

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