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Schatz, Blackburn, Eshoo Introduce Bipartisan Bill To Help Expose Foreign Government-Funded Propaganda, Improve Broadcast Television And Radio Programming Transparency

Identifying Propaganda On Our Airwaves Act Authorizes FCC To Mandate Verification Of Groups Sponsoring Broadcast TV and Radio Programming

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) have introduced the Identifying Propaganda on Our Airwaves (IPA) Act, bipartisan legislation to help disclose foreign propaganda on American broadcast television and radio. The bill authorizes the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to require that broadcasters check foreign media databases to better identify groups sponsoring programming. Companion legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

“Foreign governments shouldn’t be able to hide behind shell companies to fund misinformation and propaganda on American airwaves,” said Senator Schatz, a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. “By giving the FCC the authority to require disclosure of this foreign propaganda, our bipartisan bill will help stop this practice and improve programming transparency on TV and the radio.”

“Americans deserve the right to make informed decisions about the media they consume," said Senator Blackburn. “Under current regulations, the New Axis of Evil can use shell companies to broadcast regime-funded propaganda across American airwaves. This legislation will protect consumer transparency by requiring the disclosure of foreign government-sponsored content.”

“In July, the D.C. Circuit struck down a portion of the FCC rule that required clearer foreign sponsorship disclosures for radio broadcasters, claiming that the FCC did not have such authority. This was a disastrous decision. The rule required that broadcasters simply check two federal sources to verify an ad sponsor’s identity, a rule implemented at my urging. The American people deserve to know when radio programming they hear on public airwaves is foreign government-funded propaganda,” said Representative Eshoo. “Our legislation unambiguously grants the FCC the authority to require broadcasters to conduct reasonable diligence to identify foreign agents and their shell companies so Americans will know who is funding the information on our public airwaves.”

In 2021, the FCC unanimously issued rules requiring broadcasters to verify the real identity of programming sponsors by mandating they check the Department of Justice’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) website and the Commission’s U.S.-Based Foreign Media Outlets reports. These rules were designed to prevent foreign governments from funding propaganda through obscure shell companies. To take two examples showing how essential this verification is, “RM Broadcasting” and “Potomac Radio Group,” names of programming sponsors, are actually front groups for the Russian and Chinese governments.

In July, however, the D.C. Circuit struck down the FCC’s authority to do this. The IPA Act re-implements this authority, requiring broadcasters check the sources to identify foreign agents and their shell companies when entering into and renewing airtime lease agreements for sponsored programming. The bill would not prohibit foreign governments from sponsoring content on U.S. airwaves, but would make local stations think twice before airing foreign influence operations.

“The principle that the public has a right to know the identity of those who solicit their support is a fundamental and long-standing tenet of broadcasting,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Consumers deserve to trust that public airwaves aren’t being leased without their knowledge to foreign governments. I appreciate the leadership of Senators Schatz and Blackburn, and Representative Eshoo for their efforts to increase transparency and ensure consumers know who is behind the information transmitted over public airwaves.”

“The fact that foreign governmental entities are covertly broadcasting on our television and radio stations is alarming. The American people have a right to know the identity of those using the public airwaves in order to be informed and make their own decisions in separating truth from disinformation. I thank Senators Schatz and Blackburn, and Representative Eshoo, for their leadership in ensuring that broadcasters do their due diligence to disclose the true source of foreign state-sponsored programming. The Communications Act – and fundamental notions of transparency – require no less,” said FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. 

The full text of the bill is available here.