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US FCC will release public comments on bid to deny Fox TV station license renewal

A man walks past the logo of Fox Networks Group during the annual MIPCOM television programme market in Cannes

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission in an unusual move on Wednesday said it would publicly release comments on a bid by an advocacy group to deny the renewal of a licence for Fox Television Stations' Philadelphia station.

The Media and Democracy Project in July asked the U.S. telecom regulator to deny a licence renewal for WTXF-TV in Philadelphia, saying Fox News aired "false information about election fraud" about the 2020 presidential election and arguing it sowed discord and contributed "to harmful and dangerous acts on January 6" at the U.S. Capitol.

The group argued it "amounts to misconduct that violates the FCC's policy on the character required of broadcast licensees."

The FCC said it was opening a public docket allowing for release of comments and presentations, saying permitting broader participation will serve the public interest.

"For the sake of transparency, now everyone can read the filings and review the record as it develops," an FCC spokesperson said.

The Media and Democracy Project cited Fox Corp and Fox News $787.5 million settlement in April resolving a defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems over whether Fox was liable for airing false claims Dominion's ballot-counting machines were used to manipulate the presidential election in favor of Democrat Joe Biden over then-President Donald Trump, a Republican.

A Fox Television spokesperson on Wednesday said the "petition to deny the license renewal of WTXF-TV is frivolous, completely without merit and asks the FCC to upend the First Amendment and long-standing FCC precedent."

Fox noted WTXF-TV/FOX 29 News Philadelphia broadcasts over 60 hours of local news and other programming weekly.

The FCC, an independent federal agency, does not license broadcast networks, but issues them to individual broadcast stations on a staggered basis for eight-year periods.

Fox cited FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel's comments in 2017opposing Trump's suggestion the FCC could revoke the broadcast license for Comcast's NBC over coverage of his administration.

Rosenworcel said in 2017 FCC reviews do "not involve the government making editorial decisions about content. Doing so would be an affront to our First Amendment tradition."

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Sonali Paul)