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.

  • FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s nomination for another five-year term at the agency was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee. The

On Tuesday, we were deluged with press inquiries about Dr. Oz’s declaration that he was going to seek the open US Senate seat in Pennsylvania – with many questions as to whether his syndicated television program would subject stations that aired it to equal time obligations.  The Doctor avoided issues for stations by immediately terminating his participation on the program, but the events of this week highlight that, with 2022 expected to be a very busy election season that will soon be upon us, many stations may be facing the question of what to do when an on-air employee decides to seek election to a public office.

We have written about this issue many times before, including coverage of when well-known local or national personalities have contemplated runs for office – see our stories herehere and here. In 2017, we wrote another article here, updating prior articles on the same subject.  While the rules have not changed in the 15 years that we have been writing about it, it seems that there are always questions, so it is worth revisiting the issues again.
Continue Reading Dr. Oz Decides to Run for the Senate – What to Do When Your On-Air Employee Decides to Run for Public Office

While Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror and the holiday season is upon us, broadcasters cannot ignore the regulatory world until the new year, as much is going on in December.  Below are some of the several important regulatory dates and deadlines in the coming month that you may need to deal with before the celebrations begin.

By December 1, all licensees of commercial and noncommercial full power TV, Class A TV, low power TV, AM radio, and FM radio stations must submit an ownership report that details the licensee’s ownership structure as of October 1, 2021.  The FCC has warned that there will be penalties for stations that do not file these reports.  Licensees with ownership structures that include parent entities must also file a report for each of those entities.  An informational session run by FCC staff is archived, here, and answers to frequently asked questions are available, here.  See our blog post covering ownership reporting, here.
Continue Reading December Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: Ownership Reports, License Renewal Filings, EEO Filings and Reporting, Ancillary or Supplementary Service Fees, Political Advertising Reports, and More

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 Senate Commerce Committee announced this week that it will hold a hearing to consider FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel for

With the Administration’s decision to renominate Jessica Rosenworcel for another term on the FCC and to select her as the permanent chair of the Commission, and the nomination of Gigi Sohn to fill the vacant seat on the FCC, and assuming both are confirmed by the Senate (though the Wall Street Journal noted that there

With FCC Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel now appointed permanent chair of the FCC, and with a fifth FCC Commissioner now having been nominated (Gigi Sohn), the FCC may soon be back to normal strength.  Even before that though, the FCC and other government agencies remain busy, with many important regulatory dates and deadlines in the coming weeks.  We have highlighted some of those dates below.  Pay close attention to these dates, especially the December 1 deadline to file biennial ownership reports that is applicable to all broadcasters.

Reply comments on the FCC proposal to bring back FCC Form 395-B are due by November 1 (comments were due by September 30 and can be read here).  Following the FCC’s review of comments and reply comments on the issue, enhanced equal employment opportunity data collection could again be a reality for broadcasters more than 20 years after the FCC suspended the form’s use.  Form 395-B was an annual report intended to gather information about the race and gender of broadcast employees, thrown out by the courts over fears of the unconstitutional use of the data to force broadcasters to make hiring decisions based on these factors.  We wrote more about the possible resurrection of Form 395-B, here.
Continue Reading November Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: Reply Comments on EEO Reporting and KidVid Accessibility; New Noncommercial FM Filing Window; Biennial Ownership Reports; License Renewals; and More

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 Federal Trade Commission issued a press release which warns advertisers to avoid misleading endorsements. The FTC also sent a

A recent controversial court of appeals decision on a defamation claim brought by Congressman Devin Nunes sends a signal to broadcasters about the care they need to give to reviewing commercial messages – particularly political attack ads – when questions are raised as to the truth of the assertions made in those ads.  As we have written before, broadcasters are immune from civil liability for defamation claims when they broadcast an ad from the campaign of a legally qualified candidate, as a station cannot censor a candidate ad.  Because broadcasters must transmit the ad as produced, they are immune from liability for its content.  But ads from non-candidate groups, including political parties and PACs, can be censored by stations – so stations that decide to run such ads are subject to liability for their content.  Under Supreme Court precedent, defamation of a public figure (like a political candidate) is found when material is transmitted to the public that is false and results in injuries to the candidate plus, unique to public figures, the ad was transmitted with “actual malice.” Malice means that it was transmitted either knowing that the ad was false or having reason to believe that it was false.  See our article here about the analysis of this issue in other cases.  When a broadcaster receives objections alleging that content in the ad is false, it can be argued that the station has been put on notice that it has an obligation to assess the truth of the ad, and thus would need to take it down if the ad includes defamatory claims being made.

We recently wrote about the opinions from two Supreme Court justices suggesting that it should be easier for public figures to prove defamation claims. The case that led to the recent court of appeals decision began when Congressman Nunes brought a defamation lawsuit in response to a magazine’s publication of allegations that his family’s farm used illegal migrant labor and suggested that his political positions against immigration were thus hypocritical.  That lawsuit urged the same change in defamation law suggested in the Supreme Court opinions, and also alleged that the implications in the article were false, as Nunes know nothing about the migrant laborers.  A few months later, a reporter tweeted a link to the article, suggesting that his twitter followers look at the allegations in the article.  While the court found that the article itself was not defamatory (since the publisher had no reason to believe the information in the article was false at the time of publication, and thus acted without malice), it also found that the reporter’s tweet was potentially defamatory since, after the article was published, Nunes had filed his lawsuit against the magazine claiming that the article’s suggestion that he knew about the illegal workers was false.  The court held that a summary decision in favor of the reporter was not proper, finding that a jury could determine that the reporter’s tweet was defamatory even though the underlying article was not, as the tweet came after the claim by Nunes that he knew nothing about the illegal workers.
Continue Reading Defamation by Tweet – Court Case Reminds Broadcasters to Take Cease and Desist Requests about Attack Ads Seriously

As we enter the last quarter of the year, the broadcasters’ October calendar is full of important regulatory dates and deadlines.  We share some of those dates below and urge you to stay in close touch with your lawyers, engineers, and consultants for the dates and deadlines applicable to your station’s operations.

On or before October 1, radio stations in Alaska, American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, Marianas Islands, Oregon, and Washington and TV stations in Iowa and Missouri must submit their license renewal applications.  Pay close attention to the contents of your online public file and be sure that all required documents are complete and were uploaded on time.  Stations filing their renewals (other than LPFMs) are also required to file a Broadcast EEO Program Report (FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396), submitting two years of EEO Public File reports for FCC review unless your employment unit employs fewer than 5 full-time employees.  As you are putting the final touches on your applications, be sure to read the instructions for the license renewal application (radio, TV) and consult with counsel if you have questions.
Continue Reading October Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: License Renewals, Broadcast Ownership Filings, Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists, Rulemaking Comment Dates and More

We are nearing the end of September and, in many jurisdictions we are in the heart of political season – though mostly for state and local elections. While most broadcast stations don’t think much about the FCC’s political broadcasting rules in odd-numbered years, they are required to do so, as races for state and local political offices trigger most of the same FCC obligations as do races for federal office.  There are particularly hard-fought elections for Governor in November in Virginia and New Jersey, and all sorts of state and local elections around the country.  These include some mayoral races in major US cities.  Thus, it is worth repeating the reminders that we have published before: most of the political rules apply to these state and local electoral races so broadcasters need to be paying attention.

Whether the race is for Governor or much more locally focused, like elections for state legislatures, school boards or town councils, stations need to be prepared. Candidates for state and local elections are entitled to virtually all of the political broadcasting rights of Federal candidates – with one exception, the right of reasonable access which is reserved solely for Federal candidates. That means that only Federal candidates have the right to demand access to all classes and dayparts of advertising time that a broadcast station sells. As we wrote in our summary of reasonable access, here, that does not mean that Federal candidates can demand as much time as they want, only that stations must sell them a reasonable amount of advertising during the various classes of advertising time sold on the station. For state and local candidates, on the other hand, stations don’t need to sell the candidates any advertising time at all. But, if they do, the other political rules apply.
Continue Reading Remember – Political Ads for State and Local Races Trigger FCC Political Obligations