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?