Each week, we summarize some of the regulatory and legal actions of the last week significant to broadcasters – both those from the FCC and those taken elsewhere –with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations. Here is this week’s list of significant actions:
- The FCC’s Media Bureau last week made it easier for broadcast stations to rehire employees laid off due to COVID-19-related circumstances by granting relief from the broad outreach EEO requirement otherwise required when filling job vacancies. Licensees may re-hire full-time employees who were laid off without first conducting broadcast recruitment outreach if the employees are re-hired within nine months of the date they were laid off. As the economy hopefully turns around, this partial waiver should help stations ramp up their operations to full strength quicker than they would have been able to absent the waiver. (Order)(Broadcast Law Blog article)
- Sinclair Broadcast Group (“SBG”) agreed to pay a $48 million penalty—the largest penalty ever paid to the FCC by a broadcaster—and adopt a compliance plan to settle investigations into (1) SBG’s lack of disclosure during its failed merger with Tribune Media; (2) its obligation to negotiate retransmission consent agreements in good faith; and (3) sponsorship identification failures on content produced and supplied by SBG to SBG and non-SBG stations. (News Release)
- The FCC released the final agenda for its May 13 Open Meeting, with two items of interest to broadcasters. It is expected that both these items will be adopted before the virtual meeting scheduled for next Wednesday. (Agenda)
- The first would modernize and simplify the public notices broadcasters must provide upon the filing of certain applications. This order, if adopted as drafted, would update many of the public notice requirements, end requirements for newspaper public notice, and abolish required license renewal pre-filing announcements (draft of the Report and Order).
- The second action deals with regulatory fees. The draft order, despite opposition from VHF station licensees, declines to provide any blanket regulatory fee reductions to these stations as the FCC moves fully to television regulatory fees based on the population served by the TV station rather than the size of the market in which the station operates. The same document sets out for comment the proposed annual regulatory fees to be paid in September 2020 by all FCC regulated entities, including radio and TV stations (draft of the Report and Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking).
- The Supreme Court granted Prometheus Radio Project more time, until July 21, to file a response to the petitions by the FCC and NAB asking for review of the Third Circuit decision that rolled back the Commission’s 2017 media ownership reforms, including the abolition of the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule. If the request for review is granted, the Supreme Court will take up the case, at the earliest, during its 2021 term. (Time Extension Request)(see this Broadcast Law Blog article for more on the appeal that Prometheus seeks to oppose).
- The comment period closed this week in the FCC’s FM “zonecasting” proceeding. The comments were submitted on a petition for rulemaking filed by GeoBroadcast Solutions, asking the FCC to change its rules to permit FM boosters to allow commercials, news reports or other short content to be dropped into their programming that would be different than the programming on the main station. Under the current rules, FM boosters must retransmit 100% of the programming from their originating station. (FM broadcast booster proceeding filings) (see this Broadcast Law Blog article for more information about the zonecasting proposal, and look for another article early this week summarizing the positions taken in the comments).
- A Wisconsin television station filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by the President’s reelection committee claiming that an attack ad from the Priorities USA PAC which was broadcast on the station was defamatory. The motion argued that the campaign could not sustain a claim of defamation over an advertisement the station claimed was political speech protected by law including the First Amendment. (Motion to Dismiss – and watch for a summary in the Broadcast Law Blog this week).