Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.
- In the run-up to the August 11 National EAS Test, the FCC released a Public Notice reminding broadcasters to ensure their EAS equipment is all updated, their EAS equipment can receive and process the National Periodic Test code (the “six zeroes” national location code), and their equipment is configured for the monitoring assignments designated in their State EAS Plans. This year’s test will not be distributed over the internet using IPAWS but will instead use traditional broadcast distribution, which will cause the aural and visual messages received by TV viewers to not be identical. Stations must file EAS Form Two “day of test” information by August 12 and EAS Form Three with post-test data by September 27. (Public Notice)
- In other EAS news, the FCC Enforcement Bureau proposed a $20,000 fine against ESPN for alleged violation of the FCC rules that prohibit the transmission of false or deceptive EAS tones. In an episode of 30 for 30, the tones were heard briefly during the dramatic depiction of a severe weather event, though ESPN said the tones could not have triggered any automated relay equipment. This is another reminder that the FCC prohibits use of EAS tones – real or simulated – not tied to an actual emergency or test. (ESPN NALF)
- Nearly 200 radio and TV stations have been randomly selected by the FCC for an audit of their compliance with the FCC’s EEO rules. Station employment units (i.e., commonly owned stations serving the same area) with five or more full-time employees are required to provide to the FCC (by posting the information in their online public inspection file) their EEO Annual Public File reports for the last two years, as well as backup data showing that the station did everything that was required under the EEO rules. Station employment units exempt from EEO reporting (i.e., they employ fewer than five full-time employees) still need to respond to the audit, though with much less paperwork. The deadline for posting audit information in the public file is September 20. We wrote, here, about EEO audits and rules after the first round was announced in February. (Audit Letter and Station list)
- The FCC’s Media Bureau is seeking comment on a petition filed by the four major networks affiliates’ association regarding recently adopted rules that require broadcasters make specific sponsorship identification disclosures about programming blocks purchased by a foreign government or their representatives, and to take steps to assess if parties leasing airtime on a station requires such disclosures. The affiliates are concerned that the new rules might be read to apply to common forms of broadcast advertising and asked the FCC to clarify that these rules do not apply when a station sells time to advertisers in the normal course of business, no matter the length of the advertisement. The Media Bureau encouraged commenters that agree with the affiliates’ position “to provide objective criteria that could distinguish between advertising and arrangements for the lease of airtime” and “to articulate specific characteristics that might distinguish what they consider to be advertising from a lease of airtime on a station, such as duration, content, editorial control, or differences in the nature of the contractual relationship between the third-party and the station.” Comments on the petition are due by September 2, 2021, with reply comments due by September 17, 2021. (Public Notice) (Petition).
- Two Class A TV stations face fines of $15,000 and $20,000 for failing to timely upload a significant number of quarterly issues/programs lists to their public file. These notices are reminders that the FCC scrutinizes public files as part of its evaluation of a station’s license renewal application and that stations need to stay on top of their upload deadlines if they want to avoid these penalties. Issues/programs lists are the only FCC-required documents that demonstrate a station’s public service to its community. See the letters here and here.
- The FCC voted to begin a rulemaking that proposes two updates to the political broadcasting rules. The first proposal would add use of social media and creation of a campaign website as factors to consider when determining if a write-in candidate has made a “substantial showing” of a bona fide campaign for office so that they can be considered a “legally qualified candidate.” The second proposal would update the political file recordkeeping rules to require that stations upload to their political files any request for advertising time that “communicates a message relating to any political matter of national importance” (i.e., federal issue ads). Comments and reply comments will be due 30 days and 45 days, respectively, after publication of the item in the Federal Register. We wrote more about the proposals, here. (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking)
- The comment period has been set for interested parties who want to weigh in on several technical changes the FCC has proposed making to its rules for radio. Read the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, here, and have your comments and reply comments in by September 7 and September 20, respectively. (Federal Register)
- Auction 109 for new broadcast stations has ended, with construction permits for nearly 100 new FM stations being sold. The four St. Louis-area AM licenses received no bids. See the list of winning bidders, here.
- Keep an eye on Capitol Hill, where the Local Journalism Sustainability Act was recently introduced in the House and Senate, designed to support local media in the face of more advertising dollars migrating to digital media. If this proposal was to become law, a tax credit of up to $5,000 would be available to small business advertisers who place advertising in either a local newspaper or on a local broadcast station. Local media outlets could also receive tax credits of up to $12,500 for hiring a local journalist. We wrote about the bills, here. (House Bill) (Senate Bill)