Powell Launches FCC Inquiry into Williams Deal

Jan 14, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Under mounting pressure to act, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell on Friday announced the launch of an investigation into whether conservative TV commentator Armstrong Williams violated the law by failing to disclose that he had been paid by the U.S. Department of Education to promote the No Child Left Behind Act on-air.

Democratic commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps publicly demanded an investigation earlier in the week to determine whether Mr. Williams’ promotion of the pet project for the Bush administration ran afoul of payola law that prohibits broadcasters from airing sponsored programming without disclosing the sponsorship.

Word that Mr. Williams had received $241,000 from the Bush administration to promote the act has been widely condemned in Congress and in journalism circles.

“We need to get to the bottom of these very serious allegations,” said Mr. Adelstein, who added that violations of the payola statute are punishable by fines of up to $10,000 and imprisonment for up to one year. “People are concerned when their media are abused and misused,” added Mr. Copps, who said the FCC had received thousands of complaints about the issue.

Credited for generating many of the complaints is the watchdog Free Press, a group that has posted an electronic complaint form on its Web site at www.freepress.net. Free Press said the Bush administration’s contract with Mr. Williams was part of a $1 million deal with Ketchum Public Relations that included advertisements and commentaries promoting the No Child Left Behind law on Mr. Williams’ syndicated show, “The Right Side.”