WASHINGTON, D.C. — Democratic Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo (Calif.), a senior member of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, has praised a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released Monday by the FCC that would require the identification of foreign government sponsored broadcast TV and radio content.
“Americans have a right to know when a foreign adversary is buying up time on airwaves owned by the American people,” said Rep. Eshoo. “I commend the FCC for finally taking this critical step to defend our democracy and protect American airwaves after a glacial pace of action.”
Eshoo has written to the FCC eight times over the last 3 1/2 years urging the agency to apply stronger broadcast transparency requirements to state-sponsored media entities, such as Russian government-operated outlets Sputnik Radio and RT, the OTT-delivered TV news organization that has ceased operations.
Eshoo first wrote to the FCC on this issue on May 3, 2017.
The station fueling Eshoo’s fight is WZHF-AM 1390 in Arlington, Va., acquired in May 2000 by licensee Way Broadcasting.
That’s an entity led by Arthur Liu, the head of Multicultural Broadcasting. Way acquired WZHF and a Manassas, Va., AM station from Mega Communications in exchange of $24.5 million and WKDM-AM in New York.
In March 2011, WZHF — once the home of Top 40 WEAM — began airing The Voice of Russia. Programming was produced in the U.S. and lasted until summer 2015, when programming was replaced with a regional Mexican format.
On Nov. 25, 2017, English-language programming with a Russian perspective returned. As “Sputnik Radio,” WZHF is once again airing shows and views funded by the Kremlin. The arrival of “Sputnik Radio” came after the June 30, 2017, placement of its programming on FM translator W288BS at 105.5 MHz, originally using a feed off of a multicast channel tied to WKYS-FM 93.9 in Washington, owned by Urban One.
W288BS is owned by prominent D.C. communications attorney John Garziglia, through his licensee Reston Translator LLC.
The 2017 debut of Sputnik radio caught Eshoo’s attention, and at the time was joined by Mike Doyle (Pa.) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) in urging FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to investigate the matter and enforce the public interest standard for licensed stations that broadcast the network.
This led to a sequence of events forcing WZHF’s programmer, Florida-based RM Broadcasting LLC to register as a foreign agent. In DOJ filings, RM confirmed that it was paid $1.43 million between November 24, 2017 and June 2019 by Rossíya Segódnya, the government news agency created in 2013 by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Foreign Entities Reform Act, which requires U.S. media outlets to disclose state-sponsored programming, is largely thanks to Eshoo.
RM is led by Arnold Ferolito, and leases WZHF via an agreement with Liu.
With the 2020 presidential election campaign heating up, Eshoo’s efforts against Sputnik became reenergized, entering a new chapter.
“The U.S. Intelligence Community concluded in January 2017 that Russian state-sponsored media outlets RT and Sputnik meddled in our 2016 elections when they pushed anti-U.S. messaging over U.S. airwaves to undermine trust in our democracy,” Eshoo claims. “Eight days before a consequential election, the FCC is releasing a rule which should have been implemented by now, an action I’ve called for since May 2017.”
— With reporting by Adam R Jacobson, in Boca Raton, Fla.