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 EshooTime for Congress to make a down payment to prevent future pandemic tragedies Hillicon Valley: US has made progress on cyber but more needed, report says | Democrat urges changes for 'problematic' crypto language in infrastructure bill | Facebook may be forced to unwind Giphy acquisition Eshoo urges Pelosi to amend infrastructure bill's 'problematic' crypto regulation language 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 McNerneyHouse passes host of bills to strengthen cybersecurity in wake of attacks In defense of misinformation House Democrats want to silence opposing views, not 'fake news' MORE (Calif.), Jimmy PanettaJames Varni Panetta20 years later: Washington policymakers remember 9/11 Democrats on key panel offer bill on solar tax incentive The Energy Sector Innovation Credit Act is an industry game-changer MORE (Calif.), David CicillineDavid CicillineHillicon Valley —Apple is not a monopoly, judge rules Judge rules Apple is not 'illegal monopolist' in high-profile Epic case Democrats' Jan. 6 subpoena-palooza sets dangerous precedent MORE (R.I.), Sharice DavidsSharice DavidsNY Democrat tests positive for COVID-19 in latest House breakthrough case Florida Democrat becomes latest breakthrough COVID-19 case in House Interior Secretary Haaland gets married in New Mexico MORE (Kan.), and Eleanor Holmes NortonEleanor Holmes NortonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows Security forces under pressure to prevent repeat of Jan. 6 Overnight Health Care — Democrats face setback on drug pricing 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) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel 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 TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE.