FCC modifies controversial gag order in Fox ownership investigation
WASHINGTON, D.C. — After a number of complaints and petitions from media groups, members of Congress and other parties, the Federal Communications Commission modified its gag order on the foreign ownership investigation of Fox Television Stations Inc.
The FCC began investigating Fox in November 1993 after the New York chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People charged that Fox illegally acquired its original six television stations in 1985 by using funds from its Australian parent company, News Corp. NBC joined the challenge against the Fox purchases in late November 1994.
Federal law bars foreign-based companies from owning more than 25 percent of a broadcast station in the United States.
The original order from early December covered all “communications to or from” the FCC concerning the case including documents, written answers to questions and “any other information provided” to the agency by parties involved in the investigation.
The order was criticized by several groups. The American Society of Newspaper Editors, Broadcasting & Cable magazine, and the NAACP filed petitions opposing the gag order. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Larry Pressler, R-South Dakota wrote to the FCC to protest the gag order, and in a response to Pressler, FCC Commissioner James Quello also questioned the order.
Two weeks after the first order was issued, the FCC released a second, modified order. The revised order narrows the scope of information considered “confidential.” Under the new order, only transcripts of witness interviews or depositions will be kept secret. Information and documents that a party requests be kept confidential under the Commission’s public disclosure rule will also remain sealed.
In late January, the FCC again made attempts to encourage disclosure by waiving rules which normally prohibit Commission personnel from discussing FCC issues with people outside the investigation. In the two-page statement, the FCC said the actions “arise from the nature of the particular matters at issue in this proceeding” and emphasized that the order “authorizes but does not compel anyone to be interviewed.” (In re Application of Fox Television Stations, Inc. for Renewal of License)