Political Broadcasting

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

With election results still being tabulated in many states in close political races, we thought that it is worth reminding broadcasters of the advice given by the FCC in 2020, when it issued a public notice stating that Lowest Unit Charges (or lowest unit rates as they are often called) do not apply to post-election

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

Any media platform that accepts ads for political races and ballot issues in Washington State is aware of the state’s detailed rules that govern all forms of political advertising.  Digital platforms, in particular, are concerned by state rules that require the platforms to maintain and make available to the public not only the information

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

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.

With regulatory fees due today, September 30, 2022 (extended from September 28 because of the effects of Hurricane Ian and some other technical issues with fee payment by this FCC Public Notice, with the date for waiver requests similarly extended by this Public Notice), it is time to look ahead to October and some of the regulatory dates and deadlines that broadcasters have coming in the month ahead.

October starts with the TV license renewal deadlines for Television, Class A, LPTV, and TV Translator Stations in Alaska, American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, N. Marianas Islands, Oregon and Washington State.  The deadline for filing is October 3 as the 1st of the month falls on a Saturday, thus extending the deadline to the next business day.  As we have previously advised,  renewal applications must be accompanied by FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396 Broadcast EEO Program Report (except for LPFMs and 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.
Continue Reading October Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Renewals and EEO Obligations, Quarterly Issues Programs Lists, Rulemaking Comments and More

In a recent state court decision, a King County judge in Washington State concluded that Facebook violated state political disclosure rules by not publicly providing information about the sale of political ads relating to state elections and ballot issues, as required by state law.  While there does not yet appear to be a written decision in the case, according to trade press the judge’s ruling rejected motions by Facebook parent Meta to have the law declared unconstitutional and to have penalties asserted by the State attorney general thrown out (see attorney general’s statement here).  We have written much on this blog about FCC regulations relating to political advertising and have noted how those rules do not apply to online platforms.  This case is but one example of how state laws are filling in some of the gaps in the regulation of political advertising.

As we wrote several years ago, the Federal Election Commission has only general rules requiring that paid online political advertising for federal offices have some identification of the sponsors of the advertising.  The FEC in 2018 started a rulemaking proceeding to determine if the “stand by your ad” certifications required in most federal broadcast and cable candidate advertising (the requirement which obligates the federal candidate to say “I’m X and I approved this message”) should carry over into the online world.  That proceeding has never been resolved – likely held up both because of the difficulty of resolving sensitive political issues at the FEC, and because of the inherent difficulty of adopting one-size-fits-all disclosure obligations for online media, where ads can range from TV-style videos to short tweets and textual messages to images displayed in virtual reality worlds.  Carrying over broadcast-style regulation to these diverse platforms is a tricky fit.
Continue Reading As More Political Advertising Moves Online, State Laws Provide the Regulatory Framework for Disclosures and Recordkeeping