Missouri station offering Russian state radio to listeners

By Margaret Stafford | Associated Press

LIBERTY, Mo. — A man who runs a little-known, low-budget radio station in suburban Kansas City says he champions free speech and alternative viewpoints as he airs state-sponsored programs amid the Ukraine war.

Radio Sputnik, funded by the Russian government, pays broadcasters in the US to broadcast its programs. Only two do: one is Peter Schartel’s company in Liberty, Missouri, and one is in Washington, DC

Schartel began airing the Russian program in January 2020, but criticism intensified after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Schartel said he and his wife were accused of being traitors to the United States and occasionally made threats. Some critics say it encourages propaganda and misinformation, but Schartel claims most people who call to complain haven’t heard the program.

“Some will talk to me, but others will still call me a piece of whatever,” he said. “What I’m grateful for is that we still live in a country where they can call me. Even if they don’t think about freedom of expression, they exercise this right.”

Radio Sputnik is produced by the US-based subsidiary of Rossiya Segodnya, a media group run by the Russian government.

Its content prompted the National Association of Broadcasters to issue an unusual statement on March 1, urging broadcasters to stop airing state-sponsored programs with ties to Russia or its agents.

The statement by NAB President and CEO Curtis LeGeyt said the organization is a “fierce defender” of free speech, but in the face of Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine, “we believe our nation stands wholeheartedly against misinformation and for freedom and… Democracy must occur around the world.”

During a recent program of The Critical Hour, broadcast on Schartels KCXL, the presenters and their guests repeated false and unsubstantiated claims about the Ukrainian government. They repeated the lies of Russian state media about Russian military attacks on civilian targets and the destruction of entire neighborhoods, as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unfounded claims that his enemies in Ukraine were Nazis.

The Kansas City Star said in an editorial that Schartel put his financial needs ahead of ethics by spreading Russian propaganda.

“Similar to the National Association of Broadcasters, we advise KCXL to stop any broadcasts that portray Putin in a positive light. The Russian President is not a victim; he’s certainly not a war hero,” wrote The Star.

Schartel admitted that he initially accepted the contract with Radio Sputnik because he was struggling to keep KCXL afloat. The station operates in a dilapidated, untidy building. He said he stopped taking a salary months ago, even though he does almost all the work.

The Alpine Broadcasting Corp. von Schartel is paid $5,000 a month to broadcast Radio Sputnik in two three-hour blocks per day, according to a U.S. Department of Justice Foreign Agent Registration Act filed in December 2021.

KCXL’s other programming includes shows that are heavily religious, offering opinions from across the political spectrum and promoting conspiracy theories. One program, TruNews, has been criticized by the Anti-Defamation League for spreading anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic and anti-LGBTQ messages.

Schartel said he airs programming that is not commercially viable and does not depend on advertising, which he says influences news coverage. He said he promotes freedom of expression by providing a platform for people who would otherwise not be heard.

Roy Gutterman, director of the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University, said that all radio station owners in the US have the right to broadcast any content they want.

“If this station thinks they’re going to make an impact in Missouri by playing Radio Sputnik, they have the right to do so,” Gutterman said.

The Federal Communications Commission, which governs the licensing of radio and television broadcasts, does not censor content unless it intentionally endangers public safety or is determined to be obscene, indecent, or profane.

Radio Sputnik listeners not only hear discussions about Russia, but also current issues in the United States and other countries. The theme of the entire show is that US policy intentionally harms the US and other countries while benefiting other corrupt governments, the rich and big business.

The deal that brought Radio Sputnik to the small Missouri station was brokered by Florida-based RM Broadcasting, run by Anthony Ferolito. He signed a similar deal with Way Broadcasting in 2017, which agreed to lease WZHF-AM’s Washington, DC airtime to RM Broadcasting.

As a result of his contracts with Rossiya Segodnya, in 2018 the Justice Department required Ferolito to register as a foreign government agent, citing a 1938 law governing persons working for or acting on behalf of a foreign government. Ferolito lost a legal battle over registration.

Ferolito did not respond to messages from The Associated Press, but RM Broadcasting said in a statement that the company stands by Ukraine and all victims of oppression and aggression. It states that RM Broadcasting is committed to freedom of expression.

“The public is given explicit notice of the source of the material throughout the day of broadcast so that people can make an informed choice about whether to listen or turn the dial — and that freedom of choice is the ultimate foundation of our republic,” the statement said .

Syracuse University’s Gutterman noted that state-produced content from countries not friendly to the US, including Russia and China, is already available on some cable networks and online, although some providers have dropped Russian content since the war began.

“Modern media has changed the radio landscape we grew up with,” he said. “Even if broadcasters delete it, people can still find that content.”

https://www.mercurynews.com/2022/03/26/missouri-station-offering-russian-state-radio-to-listeners/ Missouri station offering Russian state radio to listeners

Joel McCord

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