FCC responds quickly to CREW request for Murdoch docs, ignores Grassley’s Lightsquared demands

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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The Federal Communications Commission made at least one exception to its notoriously slow pace of responding to information requests, promptly forking over a significant cache of documents on News Corp. and Rupert Murdoch last year.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — a group funded in part through the philanthropy of left-wing billionaire investor George Soros — obtained 233 pages of records on Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp. media empire, from between Jan. 1, 2006 and July 15, 2011, according to documents available on CREW’s Scribd account.

The FCC’s response included correspondence about News Corp.’s acquisition of Dow Jones & Co., the parent company of The Wall Street Journal, and News Corp.’s transfer of its control of Direct TV to Liberty Media Corporation.

“The records consist of 176 pages of e-mail communications between parties outside of the agency and Commission personnel and 57 pages of Congressional correspondence,” said Michael S. Perko, chief of the FCC’s Media Bureau Office of Communication and Industry Information, in the agency’s response letter to CREW.

The Daily Caller previously reported that the agency denies approximately 46.8 percent of the Freedom of Information Act requests it receives, making it one of the more secretive outfits in federal government.

CREW’s request sought “any and all records … of any kind … regardless of format, medium, or physical characteristics” within that four and a half year timespan “referencing or pertaining to News Corp and/or Rupert Murdoch.” (RELATED: FCC more secretive than the CIA)

The July 15, 2011 request, the organization said, was made in response to the U.K. phone hacking scandal that rocked Murdoch’s News Corp. media empire. On August 9, 2011 the cache was delivered.

“Our request includes any telephone messages, voice mail messages, daily agenda and calendars, information about scheduled meetings and/or discussions, participants included in those meetings and/or discussions, minutes of any such meetings and/or discussions, and transcripts and notes of any such meetings and/or discussions to the extent they relate to the aforementioned requested information,” said Anne L. Weismann, chief counsel for CREW.

Not every request to the agency, however, is met with such speedy delivery.

For instance, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley has yet to receive the agency’s records on the LightSquared tech scandal despite first requesting the documents nearly one year ago, on April 27, 2011. LightSquared is billionaire hedge-fund manager Philip Falcone’s broadband company, which has come under fire for how its technology disrupts GPS signals.

The FCC has rebuffed Grassley’s repeated inquiries for what the agency claims is his lack of jurisdiction.

In response, Grassley has vowed to hold hostage the confirmation process of two pending nominations to fill vacant seats on the commission until his request is granted. The standoff between the senator and the FCC leaves the balance of voting power in favor of the Democratic members of the commission 2-1.

“The FCC has played games for a year on LightSquared documents,” Grassley told TheDC. “In fact, I know even FOIA requesters who have been waiting for almost a year for LightSquared documents.”

Broadcasting and Cable reported Thursday that the agency was expected to release more documents on LightSquared in the coming weeks to the House Energy and Commerce Committee as a way around the impasse. The agency recently released 13,000 documents on LightSquared in response to a Feb. 28 request by House Energy & Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, Communications subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden and Oversight and Investigations subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns.

“Even when the agency started producing documents recently for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, those documents already had been public for months, with the exception of a few newly unredacted items that are hard to identify,” said Grassley. “This is not transparency.”

“It’s important to remember that the FCC’s accelerated treatment of LightSquared in the first place is what attracted scrutiny,” he continued. “The FCC’s resistance to answering basic questions about its decision-making is unacceptable for a public agency.”

TheDC previously reported that the FCC gave special treatment to LightSquared at the expense of other broadband businesses. LightSquared is now facing potential bankruptcy following the suspension by the FCC of its plans to build out its network.

The FCC declined TheDC’s request for comment. CREW was unable to respond to TheDC’s request for comment by the time of publication.

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