Programming Regulations

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

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.

In a decision this week on the sale of radio stations by Univision Radio to Latino Media Network, the Audio Division of the FCC’s Media Bureau discussed the FCC’s longstanding prohibition on the seller of a broadcast station retaining a “reversionary interest” in the station it is selling.  In this case, FCC staff found that the intent of the buyer to enter into a Local Marketing Agreement by which the seller would program some of the stations after closing was not a reversionary interest, because the buyer was free to make programming decision for the stations as long as it retained ultimate control over that programming and station operations.  Had the LMA been a condition of the sale, or had it served as partial consideration for the sale, the FCC suggested that it would have violated the prohibition against revisionary interests. But as the seller did not make the LMA a condition of the sale, the post-closing decision to enter into an LMA was a programming decision under the control of the buyer and thus was not deemed to be a prohibited reversionary interest.  No matter what the holding of this case, a more fundamental question arises – what is a reversionary interest and why is it prohibited?

In reviewing our blog when writing this article, we noted that in the almost 17 years we have been publishing, we don’t seem to have ever referred specifically to the question of reversionary or retained interests in a broadcast station.  It is an issue that does not come up often, but it is related to another issue that we have written about before – the prohibition on a lender taking a security interest in a broadcast license (see, for instance, our two part article on security interests in broadcast licenses, here and here).  The prohibition on the right of reversion or retained interest in a broadcast license is set out in Section 73.1150 of the FCC rules, which states:

(a) In transferring a broadcast station, the licensee may retain no right of reversion of the license, no right to reassignment of the license in the future, and may not reserve the right to use the facilities of the station for any period whatsoever.

(b) No license, renewal of license, assignment of license or transfer of control of a corporate licensee will be granted or authorized if there is a contract, arrangement or understanding, express or implied, pursuant to which, as consideration or partial consideration for the assignment or transfer, such rights, as stated in paragraph (a) of this section, are retained.

The prohibition against the right of reversion, and the prohibition against a lender taking a security interest directly in a license, were both adopted by the FCC to implement Communications Act requirements that state that a broadcast license does not convey an ownership interest in the spectrum being used, but instead only confers on the license holder a right to use the spectrum that does not extend “beyond the terms, conditions, and periods of the license.”  In adopting the prohibitions against a reversionary interest, and the prohibitions on taking a security interest in a license, the FCC believed that these interests would imply an ownership interest in the license akin to the ownership interest that one might hold in other forms of property that can be subject to leases, mortgages, and other security interests.  Thus, the restrictions were imposed over half a century ago.  But, since being implemented, the FCC has from time to time questioned whether these restrictions really were necessary.
Continue Reading FCC Decision Discusses Prohibition on Retaining Reversionary Interests in Broadcast Licenses After Sale – What Is a Reversionary Interest and Why Is It Prohibited? 

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.

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 effective date of a recently adopted FCC Report and Order aimed at making emergency alerts delivered over television and

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.

In speaking to many broadcast groups around the country in the last few months, I have found that many broadcasters are totally confused by the FCC’s rules requiring that they seek certifications from anyone buying programming time on their stations (or providing programming for free in exchange for that programming being broadcast on the station).  These certifications must indicate that the programmer  is not a “foreign government entity,” a term that includes any foreign government or foreign-government owned entity, an agent of a foreign government, or someone who has been paid by a foreign government to produce the program.  As we noted (see our articles here and here), the rules requiring these certifications went into effect on March 15, 2022 for any new agreements effective after that date, and September 15, 2022 for obtaining certifications from programmers who were already on the air as of March 15.  Now, the FCC has asked in a Second Notice of Proposed Rulemaking whether it should expand these obligations to identify foreign government-backed programming.  In addition, a bill has been introduced in Congress that would authorize the FCC to impose the obligation it attempted to impose on broadcasters initially – that they check databases maintained by the Department of Justice (the Foreign Agents Registration Act database) and by the FCC to confirm the accuracy of the certifications obtained from programmers as to whether or not they are agents of foreign governments (see our article here on the Court decision rejecting the requirement that broadcasters check these databases).

When I am speaking at broadcast association meetings across the country, I am almost always asked why the FCC is seeking this information.  The FCC decided that it had to act in this area when, in a couple of high-profile cases in major markets, program time was being purchased by entities that represent foreign governments – with Russian and Chinese news and information programming being of the most concern.  When these instances were highlighted by other US government agencies and through political complaints, the FCC felt that it had to act.  I don’t think that many broadcasters would have concerns if the rules were limited to situations where a foreign government is in fact buying program time or doing a time brokerage agreement, with the intent of airing its slanted news to US citizens, with such programming being required to be identified to the public as being sponsored by an entity related to a foreign government.  But the concern that many have raised is that the FCC’s requirements impose significant burdens on broadcasters and programmers even in instances where there is no doubt that companies buying time on broadcast stations are not posing any threat to US interests.
Continue Reading FCC Seeks Comments on Tighter Requirements for Broadcasters to Identify Foreign Government Sponsored Programming – And A Bill Introduced in Congress – What Does It Mean for Broadcasters? 

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.