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FCC Opens Door to Comments on MusicFirst’s Allegations

Coalition says this is a welcome ‘first step’

Are broadcasters violating their public interest obligations by using their airwaves to fight the performance royalty?

MusicFirst says yes and expresses pleasure that the Federal Communications Commission now is asking for comments on a petition the group filed earlier in the radio royalty dispute.

In a statement, the group’s president, Jennifer Bendall, said, “Since we filed the petition in June, corporate radio’s spokespersons have not only confirmed the charges made in the petition, but boasted that they will continue to use the public airwaves to misinform policy makers and the public and punish artists and musicians for speaking out in support of a fair performance right on radio while refusing to run musicFirst’s ads.”

The group says radio stations are refusing to air musicFirst ads, “threaten artists who support the effort to create a fair performance right on radio” and run “misleading” ads produced by the National Association of Broadcasters.

The NAB and broadcasters including Clear Channel have defended their actions and expressed continuing determination to oppose a performance royalty. Today NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton issued a statement: “NAB will be commenting on the distortions raised in the musicFirst petition at the appropriate time. Contrary to suggestions in the petition, broadcasters are under no obligation to carry everything that is offered or suggested to them.” He pointed to a Supreme Court case that found that “neither the Communications Act nor the First Amendment requires broadcasters to accept paid editorial advertisements.”

The FCC Media Bureau issued a public notice Friday asking whether certain broadcasters are indeed “targeting and threatening artists who have spoken out in favor” of the Performance Rights Act. It wants to know more about the effects of the alleged refusal to air ads and whether broadcasters are “engaging in a media campaign, coordinated by NAB, which disseminates falsities about the PRA.”

The FCC also asks whether any broadcasters have dodged public file requirements by treating their own anti-royalty spots as PSAs.

The commission also included this language in its announcement: “We recognize that substantial First Amendment interests are involved in the examination of speech of any kind, and it is not clear whether remedies are necessary or available to address the actions alleged by MusicFirst. We are seeking comment on the issues raised by MusicFirst in order to develop a more complete factual record.”

You can file comments here. Filings should reference MB Docket No. 09-143.