Political Broadcasting

2023 has begun – and everyone is speculating as to what the New Year will bring.  Last week, we published an article looking at some of the regulatory issues that the FCC will potentially deal with this year.  But some regulatory dates are already on the calendar, and broadcasters need to be aware of the obligations that they impose.  So, each year, at about this time, we put together a look at the regulatory dates ahead for broadcasters.  This year is no different – and we offer for your review our Broadcasters’ Regulatory Calendar for 2023.  While this calendar should not be viewed as an exhaustive list of every regulatory date that your station will face, it highlights many of the most important dates for broadcasters in the coming year – including dates for EEO Public Inspection File ReportsQuarterly Issues Programs listschildren’s television obligations, annual fee obligations, retransmission consent/must-carry elections, the Biennial Ownership Report due later this year, and much more.

There seem to be fewer dates highlighted than on last year’s calendar.  That’s because there are two sets of deadlines that are not as significant this year.  With the license renewal cycle almost at its end, the calendar just contains information about license renewals for the 4 states (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware) whose television stations have license renewal applications due in the last two renewal cycles (February 1 deadlines for New York and New Jersey TV stations, and April 1 for stations in the other two states). 

Continue Reading Broadcasters’ Calendar – A Look Ahead to the Regulatory Dates for 2023

It’s a new year, and it’s time to look ahead at what Washington may have in store for broadcasters this year.  The FCC may be slow to tackle some of the big issues on its agenda (like the completion of 2018 Quadrennial Review or any other significant partisan issue) as it still has only four Commissioners – two Democrats and two Republicans.  On controversial issues like changes to the ownership rules, there tends to be a partisan divide.  As the nomination of Gigi Sohn expired at the end of the last Congress in December, the Biden administration was faced with the question of whether to renominate her and hope that the confirmation process moves more quickly this time, or to come up with a new nominee whose credentials will be reviewed by the Senate.  It was announced this week that the administration has decided to renominate her, meaning that her confirmation process will begin anew.  How long that process takes and when the fifth commissioner is seated may well set the tone for what actions the FCC takes in broadcast regulation this year.

Perhaps the most significant issue at the FCC facing broadcasters is the resolution of the 2018 Quadrennial Review to assess the current local ownership rules and determine if they are still in the public interest.  As we wrote last week, the FCC has already started the 2022 review, as required by Congress, even though it has not resolved the issues raised in the 2018 review.  For the radio industry, those issues include the potential relaxation of the local radio ownership rules.  As we have written, some broadcasters and the NAB have pushed the FCC to recognize that the radio industry has significantly changed since the ownership limits were adopted in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and local radio operators need a bigger platform from which to compete with the new digital companies that compete for audience and advertising in local markets.  Other companies have been reluctant to endorse changes – but even many of them recognize that relief from the ownership limits on AM stations would be appropriate.

Continue Reading Looking Into the Crystal Ball – What’s Coming in Broadcast Regulation in 2023 From the FCC

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.

  • By a Public Notice issued on December 15, the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau told broadcasters to submit

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 has sent an e-mail, apparently to all broadcasters, regarding the cybersecurity of broadcast stations that use the DASDEC

Last week, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) adopted new disclaimer requirements for internet-based political advertising, including the identification of the ad sponsor.  This decision resolves many of the issues that have been debated at the FEC for over a decade as to what internet content is considered a “public communication” that requires a disclosure of the sponsor of the content – and just what the disclosure should reveal.  We wrote about a 2018 rulemaking soliciting comment on these issues that was just part of the process that led to the vote taken last week.  While the FEC had generally acknowledged that online political ads should have some sponsorship identification, it is only now that the FEC has adopted detailed requirements for this identification.  As discussed below, the proceeding requires disclosures when a sponsor pays an online platform to transmit the political message.  However, the FEC postponed for another day consideration as to whether the disclaimers would be required when the sponsor pays others to promote or widely disseminate the message to platforms that are not paid (e.g., where people are paid by a sponsor to post political messages on social media sites).  These rule changes will impact most media companies with websites and mobile apps, as well as the nationwide streaming services now developing ad supported platforms.

Specifically, the FEC adopted a proposal that would amend its rules to require a disclaimer on those “communications placed for a fee on another person’s website, digital device, application, or advertising platform.”   The FEC also issued a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking public comment as to whether disclaimers should be required for political communications where the platform itself may not have been paid, but where the sponsor of the communication paid others to promote or otherwise broaden the dissemination of the communication.
Continue Reading Federal Election Commission Adopts New Rules for Sponsorship Disclaimers for Online Political Advertising – And to Consider Rules for Political Marketing Through Social Media Influencers 

In a very busy week, 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 Federal Trade Commission and seven state Attorneys General announced a settlement with Google LLC and iHeart Media, Inc. over allegations that iHeart radio stations aired thousands of deceptive endorsements for Google Pixel 4 phones by radio personalities who had never used the phone.  The FTC’s complaint alleges that in 2019, Google hired iHeart and 11 other radio broadcast companies to have their on-air personalities record and broadcast endorsements of the Pixel 4 phone, but did not provide the on-air personalities with the phone that they were endorsing.  Google provided scripts for the on-air personalities to record, which included lines such as “It’s my favorite phone camera out there” and “I’ve been taking studio-like photos of everything,” despite these DJs never having used the phone.  The deceptive endorsements aired over 28,000 times across ten major markets from October 2019 to March 2020.  As part of the settlement, subject to approval by the courts, Google will pay approximately $9 million and iHeart will pay approximately $400,000 to the states that were part of the agreement.  The settlement also imposes substantial paperwork and administrative burdens by requiring both companies to submit annual compliance reports for a period of years (10 years in the case of iHeart), and create and retain financial and other records (in the case of iHeart, the records must be created for a period of ten years and retained for five years).
    • This case is a reminder that stations must ensure that their on-air talent have at least some familiarity with any product they endorse, particularly where on-air scripts suggest that they have actually used the product.  Stations should not assume that talent know the relevant rules – they more likely will just read whatever is handed to them without understanding the potential legal risk for the station, which, as demonstrated in this case, could be significant.


Continue Reading This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters: November 26 to December 2 , 2022

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