Two weeks ago, we wrote about the complaints filed against 11 big-market TV stations about deficiencies in the political broadcasting paperwork in their online public file. This week, the FCC’s Office of Political Broadcasting in its Media Bureau sent letters to all of the stations involved, asking that the stations respond to the complaints and provide details about the factual assertions that were made, by May 27. At the same time, the FCC Chairman issued a Statement, reminding TV broadcasters of the importance of the political file, and how seriously the FCC takes any violations of its rules.
While having the FCC staff respond to complaints with requests for more information is not unusual, the speed with which the letters were sent is. Rarely does a complaint trigger an FCC response in less than two weeks. And rarer still is an accompanying press release from the FCC Chair talking about the importance of the subject matter of the complaint. These actions only serve to highlight what we wrote last week – that stations need to be vigilant in reviewing their online public files – and particularly the political files – to make sure that the records are accurate and timely. And, as stations in smaller markets need to be ready to put their political files online by July 1, they need to be prepared as well.
These actions all seem to make it clear that the FCC will not be delaying or changing the online public file obligations for small market changes, so such stations need to be ready to place new political documents into the online public file by July 1. As we wrote in April, the FCC’s public notice released during the NAB Convention seemed to make that clear – and this is just additional evidence that the July 1 deadline will hold firm.
As we noted in an addendum to our article last week, I received a call from a representative of the group that filed the objections, saying that there were many issues with the political files that this group reviewed, and they selected only representative problems to highlight in the complaints. If that is true, then stations need to be sure that they are doing a better job of keeping up with their obligations – no matter how burdensome they may be during a busy political season. We have since heard that there has been much very recent activity by stations updating their online public files, which would seem to show that these complaints have done their job, and alerted broadcasters to the issues that they face for not having the file accurate and up to date. For more information on what needs to be in the political file, one place to start may be our Guide to the FCC’s Political Broadcasting Rules, here. And be sure to review the other obligations for the online public file as failures to update information in other sections of the file could bring similar complaints (see for instance, our article about the online public file, here).