Even with the holidays upon us, regulation never stops.  There are numerous regulatory dates in December to which broadcasters need to pay heed to avoid having the FCC play Grinch for missing some important deadline.

December 1 is the deadline for license renewal applications for television stations (full power, Class A, LPTV and TV translators) licensed to communities in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.  Renewal applications must be accompanied by FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396 Broadcast EEO Program Report (except for TV translators).  Stations filing for renewal of their license should make sure that all documents required to be uploaded to the station’s online public file are complete and were uploaded on time.  Note that your Broadcast EEO Program Report must include two years of Annual EEO Public File Reports for FCC review, unless your employment unit employs fewer than five full-time employees.  Be sure to read the instructions for the license renewal application and consult with your advisors if you have questions, especially if you have noticed any discrepancies in your online public file or political file.  Issues with the public file have already led to fines imposed on TV broadcasters during this renewal cycle.

December 1 is also the deadline by which radio and television station employment units with five or more full-time employees licensed to communities in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont must upload Annual EEO Public File Reports to station online public inspection files (also, the FCC has issued an extension that permits stations in Florida that suffered the effects of Hurricane Ian to upload their Annual EEO Public File Reports by December 12).  This annual EEO report covers hiring and employment outreach activities for the prior year.  A link to the uploaded report must also be included on the home page of a station’s website, if it has a website.
Continue Reading December Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – License Renewals, EEO Reports, Rulemaking Comments on Foreign Government Programming and EAS, and More

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

At each of the last two of the FCC’s recent regular monthly open meetings, the Commission addressed EAS issues that affect broadcasters. In one case, it adopted new rules that will, among other things, require that broadcasters use on-air the “IPAWS” internet-delivered emergency message in the CAP format, if the broadcaster receives the alert in both the CAP and traditional over-the-air formats.  The second action starts a rulemaking to look at imposing on broadcasters an obligation to secure their EAS systems from hacking and other electronic intrusions – and to regularly report to the FCC about what they are doing in connection with such security measures.  Let’s look in a little more depth at these actions (which we have previously briefly summarized in our weekly updates, here and here).

At its September 29 open meeting, the FCC adopted a Report and Order with the announced intention of making emergency alerts delivered over television and radio stations more informative and easier to understand by the public, particularly people with disabilities. The updated rules require broadcasters, cable systems, and other Emergency Alert System participants to transmit the Internet-based version of alerts when available (those transmitted through the internet based Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, “IPAWS,” using the Common Alerting Protocol or “CAP” protocol)  rather than transmitting the legacy over-the-air “daisy chain” version of alerts which often contain less information or have lower quality than that of CAP-delivered alerts.  As noted by the FCC, the CAP format allows for more information, including video clips (for TV), augmented warning information, and even foreign-language versions of alerts to be transmitted – information not available from alerts that are transmitted over-the-air.
Continue Reading FCC Looks at EAS Rules – Requires That Broadcast Alerts Default to CAP, and Seeks Comments on Securing the System

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC issued a Forfeiture Order imposing a penalty of $518,283 against Gray Television, Inc., for violating the FCC’s prohibition

There is but a week to go before the mid-term elections, and political ads blanket the airwaves across the country.  From discussions that I have had with many attorneys, broadcasters and other campaign observers, the ads this year have been particularly aggressive.  Some publications have even suggested that, in the waning days of the campaign, the ads may become even worse as desperate campaigns look for some last-minute claim that could turn the tide in an election.  In this rush to election day, broadcasters need to be on the alert for allegations that an attack ad from a non-candidate group is false or defamatory, because in certain instances, the ad could result in a claim against the broadcaster.

As we have written before, broadcasters (and local cable companies) are forbidden from censoring the message of a candidate (see, for instance, our articles here and here).  Section 315 of the Communications Act forbids a broadcaster or a local cable operator from censoring a candidate ad.  Because broadcasters cannot censor candidate ads, the Supreme Court has ruled that broadcasters are immune from any liability for the content of those ads.  (Note that this protection applies only to broadcasters and local cable companies – the no censorship rule does not apply to online distribution – see our articles here and here – so other considerations need to be considered when dealing with online political ads).  But some have taken that to mean that broadcasters have no fear of liability for any political ad.  As I explained in a recent interview with a Detroit television station, that is not true – broadcasters do theoretically have the potential for liability if they run an ad from a non-candidate group either knowing that ad to be false, or by continuing to run a false ad after being put on notice that the ad was false and ignoring that notice (see also this article about this distinction between candidate and non-candidate ads, and how the media’s coverage of campaigns can overlook these distinctions).  In 2020, President Trump’s campaign brought a lawsuit against a Wisconsin television station alleging that a PAC ad run on the station was false and defamatory (see our articles here and here on that suit).  In this election cycle, there are press reports of a lawsuit by Senate candidate Evan McMullin against a political party’s campaign committee and three local TV station owners for running an ad that had allegedly edited remarks by McMullin to make it seem like he said all Republicans were racist (see articles here and here).  Even Roy Moore, the defeated Senate candidate from several years ago in Alabama, successfully pursued a defamation suit against the sponsor of an ad that Moore claimed falsely accused him of improper conduct (this decision was not against a broadcaster, but instead against the ad’s sponsor, see report here).

Continue Reading With A Week to Go Before the Midterm Elections, Watch for Last Minute Unfounded Attack Ads – The Potential Liability of Stations for False Claims in Ads from PACs, Parties and Other Noncandidate Groups

November lacks the usual set of deadlines for routine FCC filings, but there are nevertheless a number of regulatory dates that warrant attention.  And come the first of December, those regular filing deadlines return to the calendar.

November brings comment deadlines in at least two FCC proceedings relevant to broadcasters.  On November 7, reply comments are due with respect to the FCC’s Order and Sixth Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (on which we previously reported) to delete or revise analog rules for Low Power TV and TV translator stations that the FCC believes no longer have any practical effect or that are otherwise obsolete or irrelevant after the transition of these stations to digital operation.  November 25 is the deadline for reply comments in the FCC’s request for comment on the methodology that it uses to allocate its employees to determine annual regulatory fees (see article here).  Broadcasters have felt that their fees have increased more than their fair share – but other regulated services likely complain about their share of the fees as well.  Because the FCC allocates the fee obligation based on the number of its employees who spend time on regulatory duties regarding a particular regulated industry, this proceeding looking to allocate how employees are allotted is very important.

Another rulemaking proceeding will likely be concluded in November.  The FCC last week announced that the agenda for its November 17 regular monthly open meeting will include consideration of a Report and Order (a draft of which was released last week) that would update the FCC’s rules to identify a new publication for determining a television station’s designated market area (“DMA”) for satellite and cable carriage purposes.  Current FCC rules direct commercial TV stations to use Nielsen’s Annual Station Index and Household Estimates to determine their DMA, and stations rely on these determinations when they seek carriage on cable and satellite systems.  Nielsen, however, has replaced the Annual Station Index and Household Estimates with a monthly Local TV Station Information Report (“Local TV Report”).  The Order, if adopted as drafted, would (i) revise the FCC’s rules to eliminate references to the Annual Station Index and Household Estimates and instead direct broadcasters to the Local TV Report – specifically, the October Local TV Report published two years prior to each triennial carriage election; and (ii) conclude that the Local TV Report should be used to define “local market” in other statutory provisions and rules relating to carriage (e.g., retransmission consent, distant signals, significantly viewed, and field strength contour).  For further background regarding this proceeding, see our article here.
Continue Reading November Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Rulemaking Comments, Political Obligations, Daylight Savings Time and More

In speaking to many broadcast groups around the country in the last few months, I have found that many broadcasters are totally confused by the FCC’s rules requiring that they seek certifications from anyone buying programming time on their stations (or providing programming for free in exchange for that programming being broadcast on the station).  These certifications must indicate that the programmer  is not a “foreign government entity,” a term that includes any foreign government or foreign-government owned entity, an agent of a foreign government, or someone who has been paid by a foreign government to produce the program.  As we noted (see our articles here and here), the rules requiring these certifications went into effect on March 15, 2022 for any new agreements effective after that date, and September 15, 2022 for obtaining certifications from programmers who were already on the air as of March 15.  Now, the FCC has asked in a Second Notice of Proposed Rulemaking whether it should expand these obligations to identify foreign government-backed programming.  In addition, a bill has been introduced in Congress that would authorize the FCC to impose the obligation it attempted to impose on broadcasters initially – that they check databases maintained by the Department of Justice (the Foreign Agents Registration Act database) and by the FCC to confirm the accuracy of the certifications obtained from programmers as to whether or not they are agents of foreign governments (see our article here on the Court decision rejecting the requirement that broadcasters check these databases).

When I am speaking at broadcast association meetings across the country, I am almost always asked why the FCC is seeking this information.  The FCC decided that it had to act in this area when, in a couple of high-profile cases in major markets, program time was being purchased by entities that represent foreign governments – with Russian and Chinese news and information programming being of the most concern.  When these instances were highlighted by other US government agencies and through political complaints, the FCC felt that it had to act.  I don’t think that many broadcasters would have concerns if the rules were limited to situations where a foreign government is in fact buying program time or doing a time brokerage agreement, with the intent of airing its slanted news to US citizens, with such programming being required to be identified to the public as being sponsored by an entity related to a foreign government.  But the concern that many have raised is that the FCC’s requirements impose significant burdens on broadcasters and programmers even in instances where there is no doubt that companies buying time on broadcast stations are not posing any threat to US interests.
Continue Reading FCC Seeks Comments on Tighter Requirements for Broadcasters to Identify Foreign Government Sponsored Programming – And A Bill Introduced in Congress – What Does It Mean for Broadcasters? 

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • On October 17, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) introduced the Identifying Propaganda

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • A judge in King County, Washington, released his decision finding that Facebook parent Meta intentionally violated the Washington State requirements

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.