Programming Regulations

Everyone knows that a fundamental principle of American democracy is the First Amendment – guaranteeing many freedoms to US citizens including freedom of the press and freedom of speech.  It is one of those concepts that underlies our society, but is often mentioned only in passing, and rarely considered in practice.  Few people – even broadcasters and other media companies – have cause to think about First Amendment principles in their day-to-day operations.  The concepts embodied by the First Amendment are almost a given – except when they are not.

In our politically polarized society, there are more and more arguments made about regulation of speech in various contexts – often made without significant consideration of those First Amendment principles.  On the broadcast side, we have seen Commissioner Carr react to two cases where the FCC has seemingly been called on to regulate the speech (or anticipated speech) of broadcasters.  One case involved a call to deny the sale of a broadcast station allegedly based on a perceived change in the political orientation of its programming from liberal to conservative (see the Carr statement here), and another calling for the FCC to investigate a TV station in Baltimore for allegedly being too focused on investigations into a local government official (see the Carr statement here and an NAB statement also weighing in on the controversy here).  While there may well be issues in each case that go beyond the question of the proposed speech of the broadcasters involved, the issue of whether the FCC can get involved in the regulation of political positions taken by broadcasters is one that is addressed both by the Communications Act and past FCC precedent.
Continue Reading The First Amendment’s Role in Broadcast and Online Regulation

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 new rules that permit AM broadcasters to convert to all-digital operations became effective April 29.  The new rules

May is somewhat lighter on broadcast regulatory dates and deadlines than some recent months, but there are still dates to note.  Among other things, the FCC will begin the process of auctioning 140 construction permits for new AM and FM radio stations across the country.  Also, broadcasters in several states, with an eye on the June 1 deadline, should be preparing now to file applications for license renewal or to prepare and upload to their public inspection file EEO public file reports, demonstrating their compliance with the FCC’s equal employment opportunity requirements.  So let’s take a look at some of the important dates for May (and early June).  As always, be sure to consult with your communications counsel on the dates and deadlines applicable to your operation.

The Auction 109 window for “short-form” applications to participate in the auction of 136 FM construction permits and 4 AM construction permits began at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time on April 28 and will close at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time on May 11.  By that deadline, interested parties must file with the FCC their short-form applications (FCC Form 175) setting out information including their ownership and the channels on which they are interested in bidding.    The auction is scheduled to begin on July 27.  A freeze on the filing of FM minor modification applications remains in effect until the end of the auction filing window.  This freeze was imposed to ensure that Commission staff and auction bidders have a stable database to work with during the auction.  Read more about the auction and freeze, here and here.
Continue Reading May Regulatory Dates: Auction Applications for AM and FM Construction Permits for New Radio Stations, New DTS Rules, 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.

  • At the FCC’s regular monthly Open Meeting, the Commissioners voted to adopt new rules mandating sponsorship identification of foreign government-provided

Earlier this week, we highlighted a letter sent last week from Congresswoman Anna Eshoo asking the FCC to review CALM Act complianceThe letter noted that the FCC has received thousands of complaints about loud commercials in the decade that the law has been in effect without having taken any enforcement action.  The FCC wasted no time in reacting, with Media Bureau issuing a request late Monday for comments on the current rules which implement the law and whether changes to those rules are needed.  Comments are due June 3, 2021, with reply comments due by July 9.

The CALM Act (the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act) was passed in 2011 due to the perception of many in Congress that the volume of commercials on broadcast, cable and satellite television was far higher than that in the programming that surrounded the commercials.  After the legislation was passed, the FCC adopted rules to implement the Act (which we described here).  Those rules were principally based on compliance with a set of ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) recommended practices, to be enforced through a complaint-driven system. The FCC has updated those rules once (when ATSC updated its recommended practices – see our article here).  The FCC now asks if those rules should be revisited to make them more effective in combatting the perceived problem of loud commercials.
Continue Reading FCC Being Anything but CALM About Congressional Letter – Asks for Public Comments on CALM Act Enforcement

As we highlighted yesterday in our weekly summary of regulatory issues for broadcasters, last week saw a letter from Congresswoman Anna Eshoo to the FCC asking for the FCC to review the enforcement of the rules established by the CALM Act, which prohibits loud commercials on TV stations.  The letter cites news reports of thousands of complaints annually to the FCC since the rule’s adoption in 2012 without there ever having been an enforcement action against a station for any violation.  When the CALM Act was passed by Congress, there were many industry questions about how that law could be enforced, as there are many subjective judgments in assessing whether a commercial is louder than the program into which it is inserted (see our article here).  But, ultimately, the FCC adopted rules that were based on industry standards and most parties seemed to believe that they were workable (see our article here about the adoption of those rules).  Like many FCC rules, the CALM Act rules are complaint-driven, and even the article cited by Congresswoman Eshoo recognized the difficulty in assessing the merits of any complaint.

Nevertheless, with this letter and the publicity that it has received in the broadcast trade press, TV stations should carefully review their compliance with the CALM Act rules, as this publicity could signal that the FCC will turn its attention to this issue in the coming months.  In fact, with a Commission that is currently evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans until the vacant seat on the Commission is filled, enforcement of existing FCC rules may well be one place where the current Commission will turn its attention while more controversial (and potentially partisan) rule changes await FCC action.
Continue Reading Congressional Letter to FCC on CALM Act Violations Puts Focus on FCC Enforcement Issues

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.

  • According to press reports, broadcasters should pencil in August 11, 2021 on their calendars for the next national test of

Here are some of the regulatory developments from the last week of significance to broadcasters, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The National Association of Broadcasters this week announced that its CEO, Gordon Smith, will be stepping down at the end

The broadcast trade press is full today with the news that NAB CEO Gordon Smith will be stepping back from that position at the end of the year, to be replaced by current COO (and former head of Government Relations) Curtis LeGeyt.  As many will remember, Smith took over the organization over a decade ago during a turbulent time for the industry.  At the time, TV stations faced increasing calls for other uses of the broadcast spectrum, and radio stations faced a possible performance royalty on their over-the-air broadcasts of sound recordings.  Since then, through all sorts of issues, there has been a general consensus in the industry that its leadership was in capable hands and meeting the issues as they arose.

But many issues remain for broadcasters – some of them ones that have never gone away completely.  The sound recording performance royalty for over-the-air broadcasting remains an issue, as do other music licensing issues calling for changes to the way that songwriters and composers are compensated, generally calling for higher payments or different compensation systems (see our articles here on the GMR controversy and here on the review of music industry antitrust consent decrees).  TV stations, while having gone through the incentive auction giving up significant parts of the TV broadcast spectrum, still face demands by wireless operators and others hungry for more spectrum to provide the many in-demand services necessary to meet the need for faster mobile services (see our articles here on C-Band redeployment and here on requests for a set aside of TV spectrum for unlicensed wireless users).  But competition from digital services may well be the biggest current issue facing broadcasters.
Continue Reading With a Change at the Top at the NAB as CEO Gordon Smith Plans His Departure – What are the Regulatory Issues That are Facing Broadcasters?

After so much turmoil in the last year, radio stations may be inclined to blow off some steam this year with some big April Fools” Day stunt.  But because of the continuing issues with the pandemic and social tensions throughout the country, a prank that may seem funny to some could trigger concerns with others.  As we do every year about this time, we need to play our role as attorneys and ruin any fun that you may be planning by repeating our reminder that broadcasters need to be careful with any on-air pranks, jokes or other on-air bits prepared especially for the day.  While a little fun is OK, remember that the FCC does have a rule against on-air hoaxes.  Issues under this rule can arise at any time, but a broadcaster’s temptation to go over the line is probably highest on April 1.

The FCC’s rule against broadcast hoaxes, Section 73.1217, prevents stations from running any information about a “crime or catastrophe” on the air, if the broadcaster (1) knows the information to be false, (2) it is reasonably foreseeable that the broadcast of the material will cause substantial public harm and (3) public harm is in fact caused.  Public harm is defined as “direct and actual damage to property or to the health or safety of the general public, or diversion of law enforcement or other public health and safety authorities from their duties.”  If you air a program that fits within this definition and causes a public harm, you should expect to be fined by the FCC.
Continue Reading Plan April Fools’ Day On-Air Stunts With Care – Remember the FCC Hoax Rule