As is the case with most months, June brings a number of FCC deadlines for broadcasters, both standard regulatory filings and comment deadlines in important regulatory proceedings. The regular filing deadlines include license renewal applications due on June 3 (as June 1 is a Saturday) for Commercial and Noncommercial Full-Power and Class A Television Stations, TV Translators, and LPTV Stations in Ohio and Michigan; and Commercial and Noncommercial AM and FM Radio Stations, FM Translators, and LPFM Stations in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada. Noncommercial stations in the states with renewals also have to file their Biennial Ownership Reports, as do noncommercial radio stations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

Renewal pre-filing announcements must begin on June 1 for Commercial and Noncommercial Full-Power and Class A Television Stations in Illinois and Wisconsin and for Commercial and Noncommercial AM and FM Radio Stations in California. Post-filing announcements for radio stations in Texas should continue on June 1 and 16, as well as for TV stations in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

In addition to these regular filings, broadcasters also have many other deadlines that are coming up either in the month, or soon thereafter. Broadcasters who were successful bidders in the recent FM auction have payment deadlines on June 12, and then have a July 24 deadline for the filing of "long-form" applications on FCC Form 301 specifying the technical facilities that they plan to build (see the FCC Public Notice here). Applicants for new FM translators left over from the 2003 filing window are now in a settlement window, with deadlines for settlements between competing applicants due on July 22 (see the FCC public notice here). 

Continue Reading June FCC Obligations for Broadcasters – Renewals, EEO, FM Translator and Auction Filings, and Comments on Regulatory Fees, Indecency, and Incentive Auction Band Plan

The FCC’s indecency policy has been in limbo since last year’s Supreme Court decision determining that the Commission’s fines on broadcasters for fleeting expletives had not been adequately explained before being imposed. On Monday, the FCC took a step to clarifying that policy by asking for public comments on what it should do now. Should it formally adopt the policy that bans even fleeting expletives, and explain that policy to broadcasters to meet the issues that the Supreme Court raised? Or should it go back to the policy that had been in place before – the decision in the Pacifica case (known more popularly as the "seven dirty words" case, about which we wrote here) – where there had to be repetitive or deliberate use of expletives before the FCC would act. Comments will be due 30 days after this notice is published in the Federal Register, and replies 30 days after that.

The Commission stated that the public could comment on other aspects of its indecency enforcement as well, without specifying any specific areas of inquiry. One issue that would seem to be foremost in the FCC’s inquiry, but one which was not mentioned at all, is the constitutionality of the policy and its enforcement. This was an issue that was twice teed up to the Supreme Court, and both times that Court managed to avoid the issue by deciding cases before it on procedural "due process" grounds – essentially that the FCC had not given sufficient warning before adopting fines or that the FCC otherwise had not followed its own procedures when it changed its policies to a stricter enforcement standard. As the Court never finally resolved the constitutionality issue, it may well be back before the Court again – especially were the FCC to decide to pursue the stricter standard applied by the last Commission.

Continue Reading FCC Seeks Comments on Its Indecency Policy – How Should the Commission Enforce Its Policies After Last Year’s Supreme Court Ruling?

Every year, about this time, I dust off the crystal ball to offer a look at the year ahead to see what Washington has in store for broadcasters. This year, like many in the recent past, Washington will consider important issues for both radio and TV, as well as issues affecting the growing on-line presence of broadcasters. The FCC, Congress, and other government agencies are never afraid to provide their views on what the industry should be doing but, unlike other members of the broadcasters’ audience, they can force broadcasters to pay attention to their views by way of new laws and regulations. And there is never a shortage of ideas from Washington as to how broadcasters should act. Some of the issues discussed below are perennials, coming back over and over again on my yearly list (often without resolution), while others are unique to this coming year.

Last week, we published a calendar of regulatory deadlines for broadcasters.  This article looks ahead, providing a preview of what other changes might be coming for broadcasters this year – but these are delivered with no guarantees that the issues listed will in fact bubble up to the top of the FCC’s long list of pending items, or that they will be resolved when we predict. But at least this gives you some warning of what might be coming your way this year. Issues unique to radio and TV, and those that could affect the broadcast industry generally, are addressed below.

General Broadcast Issues

 

There are numerous issues before the FCC that affect both radio and television broadcasters, some of which have been pending for many years and are ripe for resolution, while others are raised in proceedings that are just beginning. These include:

 

Multiple Ownership Rules Review: The FCC is very close to resolving its Quadrennial review of its multiple ownership proceeding, officially begun in 2011 with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The rumors were that the FCC was ready to issue an order at the end of 2012 relaxing the rules against the cross-ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers, as well as the radio-television cross-interest prohibitions, while leaving most other rules in place. TV Joint Sales Agreements were also rumored to be part of the FCC’s considerations – perhaps making some or all of these agreements attributable. But even these modest changes in the rules are now on hold, while parties submit comments on the impact of any relaxation of the ownership rules on minority ownership. Still, we would expect that some decision on changes to the ownership rules should be expected at some point this year – probably early in the year. 

Continue Reading Gazing Into the Crystal Ball – What Washington Has In Store For Broadcasters in 2013

As you know by now, last week the U.S. Supreme Court found the FCC’s enforcement of its indecency policy unconstitutional in FCC v. Fox.  As Bob Corn-Revere and Ronnie London described in our Advisory , this case concerned the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards shows televised by Fox as well as a 2003 episode of NYPD Blue televised by ABC.  While the Supreme Court did NOT address the First Amendment issue of whether the FCC can constitutionally prohibit fleeting expletives and momentary nudity, it did find that the FCC’s enforcement of those policies with regard to these particular shows violated due process, because the networks had no advance notice of them.

As we noted more than a year ago, there are approximately 300 TV station renewal applications from the last renewal cycle still pending due to indecency complaints filed against them.  It is unclear how many of them relate to these particular shows, but to the extent any renewal applications have been held up due to complaints against these shows only, it should only be a matter of time before those renewal applications are granted.

Continue Reading What does the Supreme Court Indecency Decision Mean for the Long Pending License Renewal Applications?

The Supreme Court heard oral argument today (Jan. 10, 2012) in FCC v. Fox Television Stations, which put squarely before the Court the constitutionality of the FCC’s current indecency enforcement regime.  The case came to the Court from decisions by the Second Circuit, involving broadcasts of the Billboard Music Awards and NYPD Blue, which held that the enforcement regime at the center of the FCC’s “crackdown” on broadcast indecency over the last several years had become unconstitutionally vague.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Broadcast Indecency Case

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals today issued its decision in the case dealing with the FCC’s fine for the Janet Jackson "clothing malfunction" Super Bowl incident.  The Court once again rejected the FCC decision – essentially upholding a 2008 decision that had found the FCC’s indecency fine to be an arbitrary departure from prior precedent.  The

The FCC’s indecency rules have, in recent months, twice been declared unconstitutional by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit – essentially finding that the FCC’s policies imposed unconstitutional restrictions on speech as they did not give broadcasters any way of determining what was permitted and what was prohibited.  After seeking several extensions of time to determine whether to seek Supreme Court review of the Court of Appeals decisions, the FCC today released its Petition for Certiorari to the high court.  The Supreme Court need not hear this request for review though, given its previous decision on these rules (which we wrote about here), and the high publicity and public interest in this subject, the case could quite well end up on the schedule.

This appeal deals with two cases.  First, it seeks review of the decision of the Court of Appeals throwing out the fleeting expletive admonitions given to Fox network stations for the broadcast of two Billboard Music Award shows that contained expletives, one by Cher and one by Nicole Richie.  Following the precedent set by the Golden Globes case (where Bono used the "F word"), the Commission held that the use of one of these single words, even if not used in a sexual context, were inherently indecent.  The second case covered by the Supreme Court petition was for the depiction of bare female buttocks in the program NYPD Blue – resulting in $27,500 fines on a number of ABC stations.  This decision was also overturned by the Court of Appeals.

Continue Reading FCC Decides to Appeal Indency Cases to Supreme Court

As the next broadcast license renewal cycle is about to begin in June (see our post here about that process), the last renewal cycle still has not ended despite the fact that the last renewal application due in that cycle was to have been submitted almost 5 years ago. At the NAB State Leadership Conference held in Washington, DC yesterday, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell provided statistics about the hundreds of renewals still pending – principally due to indecency complaints against the stations. The FCC will not grant a license renewal application when there is an indecency complaint pending, as the grant of the renewal could preclude the FCC from taking action against the licensee on the complaints filed before the renewal grant. But with indecency enforcement in a holding pattern pending the final resolution of the pending court cases challenging the FCC’s renewal policy (with no immediate end in sight to the uncertainty that surrounds that policy), these renewals are still in limbo. The Commissioner did, however, provide some good news on the indecency front, noting that the Enforcement Bureau had started weeding through all of the pending complaints, dismissing those that were clearly without merit.

The dismissal of indecency complaints that were without merit is a seemingly small, but nevertheless significant, step in weeding out the backlog of renewal applications. The Enforcement Bureau has traditionally not looked deeply into the merits of each of the pending indecency complaints while the Court challenges to the policy were pending, presumably to avoid a waste of resources were the standards to change based on the Court review. But that avoided weeding out some clearly meritless complaints – ones that complained of content that was broadcast during the 10 PM to 6 AM indecency safe harbor, or complaints that were focused on issues that were not prohibited under the FCC’s policy and precedent – such as complaints that really centered on violence, or ones that dealt with innuendo rather than the use of prohibited words or the depiction of prohibited body parts. Up until now, except when there was a sale of a station pending, there was no pressing reason for the FCC to dispose of the complaints. Stations continued to operate, and the pending complaints had little day to day impact.  But, with the renewal cycle soon to begin again, the resolution of these issues takes on some urgency.

Continue Reading As License Renewal Cycle Approaches – Dealing With Last Cycle’s Applications Held Up By Indecency Complaints