Radio Sputnik is a Russian-funded broadcast company that pays the U.S. broadcasters to air its programs. Only two companies do this: One is Peter Schartel in Liberty, Missouri, the other is in Washington, D.C.
Schartel began airing Russian programming in January 2020. However, criticism grew after Russia invaded Ukraine in Feb. Schartel claimed that people have accused him and his wife of being traitors against the U.S., and sometimes issue threats. While Schartel is accused of spreading misinformation and propaganda, some critics claim he is doing so. However, Schartel claims that most people who call to complain aren't listening to the program.
He said, "Some people will talk to me but others will still call my a piece of whatever." "What I am grateful for is that they still have the right to call me up. Even if they don't think about free speech, they are exercising this right."
Radio Sputnik, produced by the U.S.-based Rossiya Segodnya media group under the Russian government, is broadcast.
The National Association of Broadcasters issued an unusual statement on March 1, asking broadcasters to cease carrying state-sponsored programming that has ties to Russia and its agents.
Curtis LeGeyt, NAB's President and CEO, stated that the organization is a "fierce advocate" of freedom speech but that Russia's unprovoked attack against Ukraine has made it clear that "we believe that our nation should stand fully united against misinformation as well as for freedom and democracy around the world."
During a recent broadcast of "The Critical Hour", which aired on Schartel’s KCXL, hosts and guests repeated false and unsupported claims regarding Ukraine's government. They repeated lies by Russian state media about Russian military attacks on civilian targets, and the destruction of entire neighborhoods.
The Kansas City Star stated in an editorial that Schartel puts his financial interests above ethics and spreads Russian propaganda.
"We advise KCXL, much like the National Association of Broadcasters to stop all programming that portrays Putin in a positive way. The Star stated that the Russian president is not a victim and is certainly no war hero.
Schartel admitted that he originally accepted the Radio Sputnik contract as he struggled to keep KCXL afloat. The station is based in a disused, cluttered building. Although he does most of the work, he said that he had stopped receiving a salary several months ago.
According to the U.S. Justice Department Foreign Agent Registration Act filed in December 2021, Schartel's Alpine Broadcasting Corp. receives $5,000 per month to broadcast Radio Sputnik in two three hour blocks.
Other programming on KCXL includes programs that are strongly religious, promote conspiracy theories, and offer views across the political spectrum. The Anti-Defamation League has criticized TruNews for its antisemitic and Islamaphobic messages.
Schartel stated that he does not air programs that are financially viable or rely on advertising. He believes this influences news reporting. Schartel stated that he promotes free speech by giving a platform to people who aren't otherwise heard.
Roy Gutterman, director at Syracuse University's Tully Center for Free Speech, stated that all radio station owners in America have the right to broadcast whatever content they choose.
Gutterman stated that "It this station believes it's going make a mark here in Missouri by playing Radio Sputnik. They have the right to do so."
The Federal Communications Commission regulates the licensing of radio and TV broadcasts. It does not censor content unless it is considered to be indecent, obscene, profane, or dangerously endanger public safety.
Radio Sputnik listeners can hear discussion about Russia as well as current issues in the U.S. The broadcast's theme is that U.S. policies deliberately damage other countries and the U.S. while benefiting corrupt governments, the wealthy and big business.
Anthony Ferolito, RM Broadcasting's Florida-based company, brokered the deal that brought Radio Sputnik and Radio Sputnik to Missouri. In 2017, he signed a similar agreement with Way Broadcasting, who agreed to lease WZHF/AM's broadcast time in Washington, D.C. to RM Broadcasting.
Due to his contracts with Rossiya Segodnya the Justice Department ordered Ferolito's registration as a foreign agent for government in 2018. This was based on a 1938 law that allows foreign governments to lobby for foreign governments. Ferolito was sued over the registration.
The Associated Press did not reach Ferolito. However, RM Broadcasting stated in a statement that it stands with Ukraine and all those suffering from oppression or aggression. It stated that RM Broadcasting is committed to freedom of speech.
The statement stated that the public was informed throughout broadcast days of the source material so they can make informed decisions about whether to listen or not -- freedom of choice is the ultimate foundation of our republic."
Gutterman of Syracuse University noted that state-produced content from non-friendly countries, such as Russia and China is available online and on cable channels, though some providers have removed Russian content since the start of the war.
He said, "Modern media changed the radio landscape that we grew up in," "Even if stations stop it, people can still find this content."
Schartel, for his part, doesn't believe the radio broadcasts by Radio Sputnik will cause a commotion.
Russian state-controlled RT America (the television counterpart to Radio Sputnik), shut down its U.S. officethis month, and laid off the majority of its staff. Schartel stated that this likely means Schartel's contract will not be renewed after December.