Political Broadcasting

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

While the regulatory deadlines in August may be a bit lighter than other months, there are still several important regulatory dates to keep track of, some of which are detailed below.  All broadcasters should have August 11 circled and highlighted on their calendars as the date of the next National EAS Test.  And there are renewal and EEO deadlines, as well as several comment dates on FCC regulatory proposals.

After skipping last year’s annual test due to the pandemic, FEMA and the FCC chose August 11 to hold this year’s National EAS Test.  All broadcasters should work with their engineers and technical staff to make sure their EAS equipment is operating properly and is set to monitoring the stations that they are required to monitor by their state EAS plan.  By the day after the test, August 12, broadcasters must file Form Two in the EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS) portal with “day of test” information.  Then, by September 27, broadcasters must file in ETRS Form Three with detailed post-test data.  The information shared with FEMA and the FCC allows them to determine the successes and failures of the test.
Continue Reading August Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: National EAS Test, License Renewals, EEO Reporting, Political Broadcasting Rules Proposals, Media Ownership Comments, Annual Regulatory Fees, and More

Last week, it was announced that the FCC would be considering some changes to its political broadcasting rules at its monthly open meeting in August.  In some quarters (see, for example, this article), that raised concern that significant changes were coming in time for the 2022 Congressional elections.  But, when the draft of the proposed changes was released last week, it turned out that the changes were instead very minor – almost ministerial.  The proposed rule changes revise the Commission’s rules on two matters that are already part of the practices of stations and the lawyers who advise them on political broadcasting matters.  Two changes are being proposed – one dealing with the showing that needs to be made by a write-in candidate to show that the candidate is “legally qualified” and entitled to take advantage of the FCC’s political broadcasting rules, and the second being just a rule change to conform FCC rules to statutory requirements that broadcasters include, in their online public files, information about the sale of advertising time to non-candidate buyers who convey a message on a matter of national importance, i.e., a federal issue ad.

The first proposal would add use of social media and creation of a campaign website to the factors specified in the rules 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.”   Legally qualified candidates, even write-ins who have made this substantial showing, are entitled to all the protections of the Commission’s political rules, including equal opportunities, lowest unit rates and, for candidates for federal office, reasonable access to buy advertising time on commercial broadcast stations.  Looking at the online activities of an alleged candidate has already been part of the evaluation of whether write-in candidates have made a substantial showing of a “bona fide candidacy” – one demonstrating that the write-in candidate was conducting a serious campaign for office entitling them to the protections of the political rules.  Just saying that you are a write-in candidate is not enough to qualify for protections under the FCC rules – a write-in candidate must also show that he or she is really conducting a serious campaign for office (see our article here).  The facts set forth in that showing determine how serious the campaign is.  Since the FCC’s list of activities in its rules is illustrative and not exhaustive, and since online activities are indicative of how serious a candidate is, stations were already reviewing online activities when assessing substantial showings.  The FCC’s proposal would just make sure that what is already being done is spelled out in the rules.
Continue Reading FCC To Clarify Political Advertising Rules – No Significant Changes Proposed

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.

  • The FCC’s Video Division of its Media Bureau has begun to release decisions on TV license renewal applications filed in

Last week, we wrote about two dissenting opinions in a Supreme Court decision that highlight the debate that is underway on the principles that govern defamation liability in the United States.  While we are reviewing Supreme Court decisions that could have an impact on broadcasters, including on political advertising, we thought that we should highlight another decision of the Supreme Court, a case called Americans For Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, Attorney General of California, that could have an even more direct effect on the political advertising disclosure obligations of broadcasters.  In that case, the Court struck down a California requirement that charities operating in California reveal to the state their major donors.  Even though the state was supposed to keep this information confidential, the Court felt that the potential for disclosure of the contributors to groups dealing with controversial issues could chill their willingness to donate to the charitable groups, due to fears of repercussions should their donations become public (thus, in effect, creating a restraint on their First Amendment right to free association).  But could this decision have a wider impact on First Amendment rights and potentially affect disclosure obligations about contributions used for political advertising?

At least one commentator, George Will, seemed to think so.  In a column that he wrote last week, he suggests that supporters of the DISCLOSE Act (we wrote about a similar bill introduced 5 years ago here) should be worried  about its constitutionality in light of this Supreme Court decision.  If creating fears about the repercussions of donations to charitable organizations is seen as constitutionally suspect, a court could draw a similar conclusion about donations to political speech organizations.  The Supreme Court’s decision does acknowledge that the government could justify narrowly tailored disclosure obligations that advanced an important government interest, and the Court has, in the past, upheld disclosure obligations for contributors to political campaigns.  But would today’s Court see things the same way?  Would it make distinctions between disclosures of donations directly to campaigns (which have been upheld in the past where they could be seen as being linked to an attempt to buy influence with a candidate) versus  donations to third-party organizations that may engage in political speech, including support or opposition to candidates, which the Court might view  as the donors exercise of its free speech rights (as were the political expenditures by corporations in the Citizen’s United case – see our articles here and here)?  Time will tell how the ramifications of the Court’s decision will play out.
Continue Reading Could a Supreme Court Decision Affect Disclosure Obligations on Political Advertising?

For well over 50 years, the Supreme Court’s New York Times v. Sullivan decision has governed the principles applied by the courts when assessing any claim of defamation.  That standard requires that, to find a statement about a public figure to be defamatory, not only does the statement need to be false, but it also needs to have been conveyed with “actual malice.” The Sullivan decision generally defines actual malice as writing or publishing an incorrect harmful statement knowing that the statement was false, or with reckless disregard as to whether the statement was true or not.  See our articles here and here, on this standard.  Because of this standard, the vast majority of defamation cases against public figures cannot be sustained, as it can rarely be proven that a defendant knew or should have known that a statement about a public figure was untrue.

In the recent past, there have been calls for this standard to be revisited.  Former President Trump was a big critic of the policy, thinking that he should have a greater ability to successfully sue media outlets over his claims of “fake news.”  Earlier this year, a prominent US Court of Appeals judge suggested that the doctrine should be abolished, using his dissenting opinion (at the end of this decision) to rail against big media companies and what he perceived to be their liberal bias.  This past week, two Supreme Court justices, Thomas and Gorsuch, issued dissenting opinions arguing that the Sullivan standard should change, in a case in which the Court decided not to review a lower court’s finding that a defamation case was precluded by the application of the Sullivan standards.  Justice Thomas has made this argument before (prior case here, new dissent here), but the dissenting opinion of Justice Gorsuch was the first time that he officially went on record calling for a modification of the standard.
Continue Reading Two Supreme Court Justices Try to Ignite Debate on Defamation Standards – What A Change Would Mean for Broadcasters News and Political Ad Sales

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.

  • The FCC this week reminded television broadcasters of their obligation to make televised emergency information accessible to persons with disabilities.

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.

  • Because of the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year upholding the Commission’s 2017 relaxation of certain media ownership rules, the

According to press reports (see this story in Verge and this one in the Washington Post), Facebook will end its policy of not subjecting posts by elected officials to the same level of scrutiny by its Oversight Board that it applies to other users of its platform.  Facebook’s announced policy has been that the newsworthiness of posts by politicians and elected officials was such that it outweighed Facebook’s uniform application of its Community Standards – though it did make exceptions for calls to violence and questions of election integrity, and where posts linked to other offending content.  Just a year ago, there were calls for Facebook to take more aggressive steps to police misinformation on its platforms. These calls grew out of the debate over the need to revise Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which insulates online platforms from liability for posts by unrelated parties on those platforms (see our article here on Section 230). Last year, we compared Facebook’s policy with the laws that apply to other communications platforms, including broadcasters and cable companies.  In light of the potential change in Facebook’s policy, we thought it would be worth revisiting that analysis now.  Here is what we wrote last year:

[In January 2020], the New York Times ran an article seemingly critical of Facebook for not rejecting ads  from political candidates that contained false statements of fact.  We have already written that this policy of Facebook matches the policy that Congress has imposed on broadcast stations and local cable franchisees who sell time to political candidates – they cannot refuse an ad from a candidate’s authorized campaign committee based on its content – even if it is false or even defamatory (see our posts here and here for more on the FCC’s “no censorship” rule that applies to broadcasting and local cable systems).  As this Times article again raises this issue, we thought that we should again provide a brief recap of the rules that apply to broadcast and local cable political ad sales, and contrast these rules to those that currently apply to online advertising.
Continue Reading Reports that Facebook Will End Policy of Not Censoring Politician’s Posts – How Other Communications Platforms are Regulated on Political Speech

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 a speech to the Media Institute, FCC Commissioner Starks spoke of the importance of diversity in media ownership and