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U.S. lawmakers want to boost oversight of foreign government broadcast sponsorship

FILE PHOTO: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) logo is seen before the FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Monday introduced legislation to strengthen the authority of the Federal Communications Commission to oversee foreign sponsorships of U.S. broadcast TV and radio programs.

Democratic Senator Brian Schatz, Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn and Representative Anna Eshoo, a Democrat, proposed giving the FCC authority to compel broadcasters to check foreign media databases to better identify groups sponsoring programming.

"Foreign governments shouldn’t be able to hide behind shell companies to fund misinformation and propaganda on American airwaves," Schatz said.

Blackburn said foreign governments currently "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, a U.S. appeals court struck down an FCC requirement that broadcasters check federal sources to verify sponsors' identities. The FCC rules finalized in April 2021 require foreign-government sponsorship disclosure at the time of a broadcast if a foreign governmental entity paid a radio or television station, directly or indirectly, to air material.

The bill would not prohibit foreign governments from sponsoring content on U.S. airwaves.

The court noted that the FCC had raised concerns "that the Chinese and Russian governments have been secretly leasing air time to broadcast propaganda on American radio."

The issue took on new urgency in the aftermath of Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel praised the effort in Congress to "increase transparency and ensure consumers know who is behind the information transmitted over public airwaves."

Earlier this month, the FCC issued a revised proposal to identify foreign governmental entities, including a certification process with standardized language for broadcasters to use in order to demonstrate appropriate inquiries have been made.

The National Association of Broadcasters challenged the 2021 FCC rule requiring independent checks, arguing it would result in "onerous requirements to ... conduct independent research on all the entities with whom broadcasters currently or will in the future have lease agreements."

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)