Institute for Justice
A Federal Communications Fee choose rejected an effort by the company to revoke the published license of WJBE 99.7 FM/1040 AM, Knoxville, Tennessee’s solely Black-owned radio station — permitting the station to proceed broadcasting.
In a ruling handed down on Sept. 14, a choose dominated that WJBE’s proprietor, Joe Armstrong, mustn’t have his broadcast license revoked — regardless of the agency’s concerns over Armstrong’s old felony conviction for a tax crime, one which occurred years earlier than he took possession of the station in 2012.
Choose Jane Hinckley Halprin, the company’s administrative regulation choose, concluded within the ruling that Armstrong’s conviction was an remoted occasion, saying that “sufficient time has elapsed to indicate that Mr. Armstrong has remediated his improper.”
“If I used to be being completely punished for the errors I made in my previous, [WJBE] would not be in existence — nor would this station be acknowledged for the programming that we’re bringing to Knoxville,” Armstrong, a former long-serving state consultant within the Tennessee Basic Meeting, advised NPR.
“[The judge] seemed past my faults and noticed the group’s wants,” he added.
WJBE is understood for being a fixture within the Knoxville space, serving as a supply of stories for the Black group — being very a lot a community-oriented station, Armstrong mentioned.
The station broadcasts native information and climate, church companies, rising artists, free promoting for struggling small companies and, in recent times, details about the COVID-19 pandemic.
However for the final two years, WJBE — whose name letters pay tribute to its unique proprietor, the Godfather of Soul, James Brown — has battled with the FCC over Armstrong having the ability to personal a radio station with integrity following his conviction in 2016 for making a false statement on his tax return.
The company argued that Armstrong breached possession rules on account of his prior conviction, as they tried to implement its 33-year-old character qualifications policy for radio license holders.
“It isn’t like that is one thing that occurred, as an instance, this yr or final yr — we’re speaking about one thing that occurred in 2008,” Armstrong told NPR in a June 2023 interview.
Practically 15 years in the past, Armstrong and a accomplice legally purchased cigarette tax stamps that had been later bought for a revenue following the Tennessee legislature’s vote to increase the state’s cigarette tax, in accordance with the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit public curiosity regulation agency that helped Armstrong struggle the case.
His accountant reportedly didn’t correctly pay the taxes on this sale and in consequence, Armstrong confronted bother with the IRS.
In 2016, Armstrong was acquitted of a lot of the prices in opposition to him and was convicted of solely a single depend of creating a false assertion on his tax return. (His accountant, Charles Stivers, was convicted of tax fraud and was granted probation in 2017.)
Armstrong’s civil rights, together with his proper to vote, had been restored in 2020. In 2017, Armstrong says he let the FCC learn about his conviction, which he says had induced no points up till 2022.
However regardless of all efforts, the FCC nonetheless raised considerations about his potential to run WJBE.
Andrew Ward, the legal professional who represented Armstrong within the case, advised NPR that an outdated private tax violation should not prohibit somebody from holding a broadcast license.
“The federal government mustn’t get in the way in which of individuals working due to irrelevant legal convictions,” Ward mentioned. “It occurs on a regular basis. It was irrational right here and it is irrational when it occurs wherever.”
The FCC didn’t instantly reply to NPR’s request for remark concerning Armstrong’s case. The company has the choice of interesting final week’s determination, however it’s unclear if it’s going to select to take action.