A television licensing decision involving a religious broadcast network accused of fraud has sparked angry dissent at the Federal Communications Commission.
"We dissent from its stench," Commissioners Joseph R. Fogarty and Henry M. Rivera said of the closed-door action taken by the FCC Wednesday. "To characterize this action as 'arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with the law' is to pay it a gratuitous compliment. Other characterizations come to mind," Fogarty and Rivera said in a statement yesterday.
The action in question involves a license transfer from PTL Television Network of Charlotte, N.C., to David Livingstone Missionary Foundation Inc. of Tulsa to operate WJAN-TV in Canton, Ohio.
PTL, which broadcasts the syndicated television show "The PTL Club," had been under FCC investigation since April, 1979, on charges that the network misappropriated funds raised through its programs.
Largely because of the investigation, PTL officials last spring asked the FCC to sanction a proposal transferring the WJAN license to the Livingstone Missionary Foundation. Such a transfer would ensure the continued operation of WJAN, despite any possible actions against PTL, the network officials said.
The FCC voted 4 to 3 to grant the license transfer request. The commission also voted to "forward relevant information to the Justice Department about the nonpublic inquiry into whether PTL . . . its principals or affiliates were involved in 'fraud by wire, radio or television.' "
The FCC first announced its decision in a one-paragraph insert in a routine report on its meetings.
But Fogarty and Rivera, charging that the FCC's actions in the case were "wholly unexplained on any public record and prejudicial to the credibility of the commission," revealed details of the case in their public dissent yesterday. The two commissioners said the FCC's action effectively ends the commission's PTL investigation, even though the investigatory record "raises substantial and material questions as to whether PTL engaged in fraudulent solicitation of funds over the air."
Fogarty and Rivera said that, although PTL and the Livingstone Foundation have no legal relationship, PTL should not have been allowed to pick its own successor to operate WJAN.
Commissioners voting in the majority declined to comment on the case. Officials of the network were unavailable for comment yesterday, according to PTL employes.