The FCC released the agenda for its April 20th meeting – and it includes three broadcast items. Two deal with noncommercial broadcasters (undoing the requirement for noncommercial broadcasters to get Social Security Numbers from its board members so that they can acquire an FCC Registration Number for them – see our articles here and here on that issue – and one allowing noncommercial broadcasters to interrupt programming to raise funds for unrelated non-profit organizations). The third deals with the UHF discount (see our summary of this proposal here). The third-party fundraising issue has been pending at the FCC for almost 5 years, when the FCC proposed to relax its policy that prohibits noncommercial broadcasters from interrupting normal programming to raise funds for “third-party” nonprofit groups (see our article here on the proposal). A noncommercial station can raise funds for nonprofit groups during normal program breaks in PSAs or other similar brief announcements, but under current policy, they cannot conduct a telethon or radiothon to raise funds for the Red Cross, a local charity, a religious organization or even for the football team or orchestra at a college or university that owns a noncommercial broadcast station.
The FCC yesterday released its proposed order that would change the current policy. It would allow a noncommercial station to raise funds for another non-profit entity, but only for 1% of its airtime – about 87 hours a year. However, this relaxation would be limited to noncommercial stations that do not receive CPB funding, as many PBS and NPR stations opposed the change fearing that they would be deluged by requests for funding from local nonprofits (including, for university licensees, from their licensees themselves for non-station related financial needs). It was feared that such campaigns could undermine the noncommercial service provided by these stations, and could interfere with the station’s own fundraising.
But other noncommercial stations can, if this order is adopted, do this kind of fundraising for other nonprofit organizations. Many, including religious broadcasters, saw these activities as being part of their mission. However, the broadcaster who takes advantage of these new rules will have to make public file disclosures about the nature and extent of the fundraising efforts (detailing when they were done, for whom and even, if the broadcaster is involved in collecting the money, how much was raised). Interesting, a supposedly deregulatory Commission appears ready to adopt new paperwork burdens for noncommercial broadcasters. Such fundraising is limited to 501(c)(3) charitable organizations. Local charities that don’t have tax exempt status do not qualify.
I recently spoke on a panel on legal issues for broadcasters at the National Religious Broadcasters Annual Convention. Many religious broadcasters are anxious to have the flexibility to do this sort of fundraising without having to seek a waiver from the FCC. If, as proposed, the FCC adopts this order at their April 20 meeting, these broadcasters may soon be able to assist other charities in their fundraising efforts through radiothons and other long-form fundraising appeals.