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Russian invasion raises stakes in fight over foreign-backed broadcasts

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The call to action by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) was “somewhat surprising,” The Hollywood Reporter’s Alex Weprin wrote, given the group’s “long-standing and vocal support of freedom of speech and the First Amendment.”

But just days prior, lawyers for NAB called on the courts to reject a federal order that would require broadcasters to identify and disclose when programming they have leased is sponsored or provided by a foreign government. 

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The legal dispute highlights how television and radio networks are grappling with some of the same thorny questions about foreign influence and free speech as the social media giants, who have faced intense pressure over the past week to clamp down on Russian state media.

The standoff between NAB and regulators at the Federal Communications Commission predates the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but it has gained fresh significance in the wake of the war in Europe. 

“In light of recent events, this effort — which is all about transparency — has taken on new importance.  It’s time for these rules to go into effect,” Democratic FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel told The Technology 202

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In April, the FCC voted unanimously to adopt an order that would require broadcasters to either disclose that programming they have leased is sponsored or provided by a foreign government at the time of the broadcast or to independently verify that it is not. 

In August, NAB and other industry groups filed a petition objecting to the order, arguing that the agency overstepped its authority and that the new rules would be “unnecessary and overly burdensome.” The issue of undisclosed foreign entities driving programming, broadcast groups argued at the time, was “above all” associated with “social media and the Internet.” 

Just because a program runs on a broadcast network doesn’t mean the two sides struck a deal. Programming can be brokered through a complex web of arrangements with third parties that lease out time on networks, which may not fully know what they are airing. 

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The case is heating up at a prescient moment, as companies are thrust into the middle of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. 

The two sides filed final briefs in D.C. District Court last week and are slated to head into oral arguments in April. The case will decide the fate of the FCC’s more stringent disclosure rules. 

NAB said Wednesday it “unequivocally supports” disclosures for programming that is sponsored by foreign governments — such as broadcasts of the television network RT or radio outlet Sputnik — just not the FCC’s proposed requirements for vetting those arrangements. 

“Unfortunately, the FCC adopted an unlawful and unwieldy mechanism to determine when such disclosures might be necessary, and one that has a disproportionately negative impact on small and minority broadcasters,” NAB spokesperson Ann Marie Cumming said. 

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But FCC leaders argue that it’s a common sense solution to address concerns about U.S. consumers unknowingly being exposed to messaging from foreign governments, an issue that has gained massive attention over the past week.

“The wisdom of that targeted disclosure requirement is even more clear today, in light of the Russian government’s propaganda machine, which has gone into overdrive with their invasion of Ukraine,” Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr told The Technology 202. 

While there are few known examples of programming with ties to Russia on U.S. airwaves, the FCC warned in its news release announcing the order in April that “foreign governmental entities are increasingly purchasing time on domestic broadcast stations.”

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The debate mirrors the one unfolding informally in Silicon Valley.

Social media companies including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have taken a slew of steps in recent days to make it more evident when consumers are engaging with content from Russian state media, including by labeling their accounts and posts. Amid mounting scrutiny from European officials, tech companies have blocked access to the outlets in certain countries. 

The pressure campaign has recently spilled over into the television and streaming space, with DirectTV, Roku and others dropping Russian state media outlets such as RT from their services. 

But questions remain about how far companies should go to make sure they are not unwittingly serving as mouthpieces for Russian propaganda. 

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In the statement Tuesday, NAB President Curtis LeGeyt cast decisions not to broadcast Russian state media as a moral choice.

“While the First Amendment protects freedom of speech … it does not prevent private actors from exercising sound, moral judgment,” LeGeyt said.

As the war unfolds overseas, it’s a question U.S. businesses are increasingly being forced to confront at home. 

Biden administration faces test as tech nominees face committee votes

Democrats could come one step closer to gaining majorities on the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission with the Senate Commerce Committee’s expected votes on FCC nominee Gigi Sohn and FTC nominee Alvaro Bedoya this morning, Cat Zakrzewski reports.

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The vote comes at a critical moment for both agencies,” Cat writes. “In addition to restoring net neutrality, the FCC is under pressure to expand competition among broadband providers, improve maps that are used to allocate broadband funding and expand programs to address Internet affordability. At the FTC, [Chair Lina] Khan has signaled she wants to create new competition and privacy rules, and bring innovative antitrust cases against tech companies. But that agenda can’t be accomplished without votes.”

Eight states launch investigation into whether TikTok harms children and teens

The bipartisan group of state attorneys general are looking into whether TikTok’s practices put the public at risk and broke state consumer protection laws, Cat Zakrzewski reports. The same attorneys general are investigating Facebook parent Meta.

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“The attorneys general plan to focus on the methods TikTok uses to lure young users to spend extra time on the platform and open the app frequently,” Cat writes.

TikTok says it will give regulators information about how it tries to protect teens’ safety and privacy. “We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the well-being of our community, and appreciate that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users,” TikTok spokeswoman Hilary McQuaide said.

Ukraine’s online campaign likely violates the Geneva Conventions

The country has posted photos and videos of captured and killed Ukrainian soldiers on social media, including videos of interrogations and bloody corpses, Drew Harwell reports. But the strategy could be interpreted as a violation of the Geneva Conventions, which say governments “at all times” have to protect war prisoners from “insults and public curiosity.”

While such violations may seem minor compared to evidence suggesting that Russia has killed civilians, they could chip away at Ukraine’s ability to hold Russia accountable for violating international law, said Rachel E. VanLandingham, a professor at Southwestern Law School.

“The law doesn’t allow for, ‘They’re doing bad things, so we can, too,’ ” she said. “They don’t want to turn the international community against them. They’ve got to be on the straight and narrow here. It’s really dangerous for them in desperation to do things that are clearly prohibited.”

Epic Games acquired music marketplace Bandcamp. The Internet has questions. KEXP radio DJ Abbie Gobeli:

Looking forward to the next season of Fortnite, when you’ll be able to earn MP3s from emo folk bands

— Casey Newton (@CaseyNewton) March 2, 2022

Our colleague Will Oremus:

my actual theory is that they both just wanted more excuses to bond over their mutual hatred of ios app store policies

— Will Oremus (@WillOremus) March 2, 2022

  • Andy Hickl is joining Accenture as its global capability lead for artificial intelligence. He previously worked at Microsoft.
  • Michael Kennedy, a former aide to ex-U.S. senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), was promoted to be VMware’s senior vice president for global government relations and public policy. He previously was a vice president at the company.
  • Kevin Gallagher, a senior adviser to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, discusses artificial intelligence and the workforce at an Atlantic Council event on Monday at 2 p.m.

Thats all for today — thank you so much for joining us! Make sure to tell others to subscribe to The Technology 202 here. Get in touch with tips, feedback or greetings on Twitter or email

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