A U.S. communications regulator on Jan. 13 sought a probe into whether commentator Armstrong Williams broke the law by promoting the Bush administration's education plan on television and radio withou
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Reuters) -- A U.S. communications regulator on Jan. 13 sought a probe into whether commentator Armstrong Williams broke the law by promoting the Bush administration's education plan on television and radio without properly disclosing compensation his firm received.
Williams has said the U.S. Education Department's outside media firm hired a public relations company he owns to promote President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education act during a television show he owned and hosted.
The Federal Communications Commission has received about a dozen complaints, and Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, a Democrat, said the agency should look into the matter.
The complaints also asked the FCC to forward the matter to the Justice Department to review whether any criminal laws had been violated, Adelstein said.
The agency typically reviews complaints it receives and determines whether a full investigation is warranted. FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief David Solomon declined to comment.
U.S. law requires that radio or television stations, as well as individuals, disclose on air when they have received compensation to talk about a product or issue, Adelstein said. He compared it to "payola," money that radio DJs took to play certain songs.
Williams denied any wrongdoing and said the advertisements that ran during his program included a line at the end stating that they were paid for by the Education Department.
"This is not payola," he said during a telephone interview. It was a legitimate advertising campaign." Williams said his firm received $240,000 for the spots.
After the compensation became public, Williams admitted "poor judgment" in a Jan. 10 column for writing about the legislation after his firm was hired to promote it.
He said he had been a strong backer of the law and that he was not influenced by outside parties. Tribune Co.'s syndication unit, Tribune Media, canceled his column.