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Democrats criticize FCC for not taking action against DC station broadcasting Russian disinformation

Democrats criticize FCC for not taking action against DC station broadcasting Russian disinformation
© Greg Nash

A group of House Democrats criticized the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday for not taking action to curb Russian propaganda aired on U.S. radio stations, and urged the agency to take steps to remedy this ahead of the 2020 elections.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the House members led by Reps. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooHow to expand rural broadband, fast and affordably Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close Lawmakers introduce legislation to boost cybersecurity of local governments, small businesses MORE (D-Calif.) and Michael Doyle (D-Penn.) pointed to concerns around WZHF, known as Radio Sputnik, which is based in the Washington, D.C., metro area and airs Russian propaganda without informing listeners that the information is propaganda.

A federal judge ruled last year that the station had to register as a Russian foreign agent due to the station continuously airing Sputnik International news from Moscow. 

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The FCC opened an inquiry into the station in 2018 to rule on whether the station was complying with an FCC rule that requires stations to fully disclose the identity of sponsors of programs. 

The Democratic members — who also included Reps. Jerry McNerneyGerlad (Jerry) Mark McNerneyHillicon Valley: Judge's ruling creates fresh hurdle for TikTok | House passes bills to secure energy sector against cyberattacks | Biden campaign urges Facebook to remove Trump posts spreading 'falsehoods' House passes bills to secure energy sector against cyberattacks Trump administration signs AI research and development agreement with the UK MORE (Calif.), Jimmy PanettaJames Varni PanettaAmericans want to serve — it's up to us to give them the chance On The Money: McConnell previews GOP coronavirus bill | Senate panel advances Trump Fed nominee who recently supported gold standard | Economists warn about scaled-back unemployment benefits Bipartisan bill introduced to provide tax credit to food and beverage distributors MORE (Calif.), David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineJustice Department charges Google with illegally maintaining search monopoly Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Jewish lawmakers targeted by anti-Semitic tweets ahead of election: ADL MORE (R.I.), Sharice DavidsSharice DavidsChamber-backed Democrats embrace endorsements in final stretch Female lawmakers, officials call for more women at all levels of government to improve equity Trump asked Chamber of Commerce to reconsider Democratic endorsements: report MORE (Kan.), and Eleanor Holmes NortonEleanor Holmes NortonHillicon Valley: Hospitals brace for more cyberattacks as coronavirus cases rise | Food service groups offer local alternatives to major delivery apps | Facebook says it helped 4.4M people register to vote The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - White House plans for another in-person Barrett event Hillicon Valley: Treasury sanctions Russian group accused of targeting critical facilities | Appeals court rules Uber, Lyft must comply with labor laws | Biden: Countries that target US elections will 'pay a price' MORE (D.C.) — noted that they were told by the FCC in December that the investigation is ongoing, with the members writing that they found the lengthy investigation “shameful.”

“The FCC has failed to enforce its own rules as they apply to registered foreign agents, allowing hostile Russian propagandists to attack our democracy as another election is upon us,” the members wrote. “The FCC’s continued inaction, after receiving many Congressional letters from us about this critically important issue, is a stunning abdication of its responsibility to protect American airwaves.”

The members also pointed to concerns around RM Broadcasting LLC, the owner of Radio Sputnik, recently buying six hours of daily airtime on Kansas City radio station KXCL to broadcast Russian propaganda. The group of House Democrats strongly advocated that the FCC add KXCL to its inquiry into the DC radio station. 

The members cited the upcoming 2020 elections in underlining the urgency of their request to the FCC to wrap up its investigation into the station. 

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“The 2020 presidential election is fewer than nine months away and the presidential primaries are nine months away,” the members wrote. “Americans are currently in the process of deciding who they will elect to lead our country, and it’s critical that they are not unknowingly influenced by foreign propaganda.”

The FCC did not respond to request for comment on the letter. 

The report compiled by former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE, along with conclusions from U.S. intelligence agencies and the Senate Intelligence Committee, all concluded that Russian actors conducted a sweeping and systematic effort to interfere in the 2016 elections, including through a disinformation campaign designed to favor the campaign of now President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump admin to announce coronavirus vaccine will be covered under Medicare, Medicaid: report Election officials say they're getting suspicious emails that may be part of malicious attack on voting: report McConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote MORE.