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March 07, 2008

FCC launches probe into Alabama TV station's "blackout" of Siegelman segment

Good news: The FCC will investigate why an Alabama TV station failed to broadcast a controversial 60 Minutes segment about imprisoned former Democratic governor Don Siegelman.

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What prompts the FCC investigation? It's clear that the story did not run as originally scheduled, and the station's original explanation for the blackout was false. Is the FCC investigating to find out the actual cause, and determine whether the station management lied about it or was simply mistaken? If the station had openly censored the broadcast--said in advance "We don't think this is appropriate for our audience" or whatever, could the FCC still intervene? And does the investigation have to come as the result of public complaints, like the contretempts over Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl? And if there are public complaints, is the FCC obliged to investigate, or can they pass?

parse -

If the station had said, "We decided not to broadcast the first story on '60 Minutes' tonight," then there would be nothing to investigate. They don't have to broadcast a program.

But since the station says that they wanted to show it but technical problems interfered, the FCC has jurisdiction to make sure no one was doing anything illegal which caused technical problems.

Parse, the same affiliate lost their FCC license in 1969 for blacking out news of the civil rights marches. The affiliate is owned by the Bass brothers, former business partners of GWB.

Was that because the FCC ruled that blacking out news of the Civil Rights movement was proof that the affiliate was not fulfilling the responsibility of a license holder to serve the public interest?

My questions are intended to challenge the legitimacy of the investigation--I just don't understand the mechanics of it and I'm trying to get a better handle on it.

parse -

If the station had said, "We decided not to broadcast the first story on '60 Minutes' tonight," then there would be nothing to investigate. They don't have to broadcast a program.

Since they're claiming technical problems, the FCC can investigate to see if illegal activity caused the technical problems.

not fulfilling the responsibility of a license holder to serve the public interest?

Exactly.

Lessee, investigation conducted by Bush controlled FCC. I'm not holding my breath.

Five bucks says they find no evidence of wrongdoing. Another five says they use the words, "no evidence of wrongdoing" in their statement. And another five says they post their report at the end of the week, where they hope it will die quietly.

Licensed stations have a legal obligation to *broadcast*, not just have dead air. And the FCC has an obligation to investigate suspicious outages, not least because it may indicate technical problems that can affect other broadcasters.

They'd be in the clear if they put something else on, or really did have technical difficulties. There was a (second-hand) statement from the Chief Engineer IIRC posted on Crooks & Liars, that it really *was* a technical problem. And maybe it was.

BTW, if it was the management that caused this, it's not like the station manager went down to the control room and pulled the plug. A tech would have gotten the order; broadcast engineers/technicians are have to have *individual* FCC licenses to work at their jobs, and that license could be pulled if the outage was a result of a "rogue" rightwing tech pulling the plug.

So if management is to blame, expect to see them ratted out. The techs might be fired from that one station as a result, but that's better than being banned from broadcasting for life.

I am going out on a limb here to make a prediction that nothing will come of this investigation.

Thanks Snarki! Are broadcast licensee databases public? Could some reporter find out how to get ahold of people who worked at the station?

They *ought* to be public, but in Shrubya's Amurikka, far too much that should be public is gratuitously concealed. Sorry, but I don't have any hints to help getting info out of the FCC.

Actually the best bet is to ask around among techs at *other* broadcasters in the area, because it's near certain that they ALL know each other. The other station's techs might or might not have inside info on the outage, but they almost certainly have contact information and a higher quality of scuttlebutt.

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