Programming Regulations

Here are some of the regulatory and legal actions of 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.

  • FCC fines against two radio stations serve as a reminder that station managers need to pay close attention

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau this week issued two fines, one for $6000 and another for $5200 for violations of its contest rules, as the contests were not conducted as advertised.  In each of these cases, a prize winner was not awarded a prize in a timely manner.  In both cases, the prizes were not provided to winners even after the winners inquired, and, for one reason or another, the stations did not immediately respond to the prize winner to resolve the issue – instead providing substitute prizes only when FCC complaints were filed.  Even though both prize winners appeared satisfied by the substitute prizes and withdrew their complaints, the FCC nevertheless issued the fines finding that the contests had not been conducted as promised, in that the original prizes were not awarded on a timely basis.  While in both cases the delays appeared to simply be the result of station staff not making a priority of determining how to deal with delivering the prizes, these cases serve as a warning to broadcasters to review their contest rules and make sure that station staff understand that, if an unexpected glitch arises, they should not dawdle in working to resolve those issues.

As we have written before, the FCC requires that broadcasters adopt written rules for contests disclosing all material terms of those contests (see our posts here here and here that talk about some of the material rules that need to be covered) and make those rules available to the public.  While the rules can now be posted online instead of having to be read on the air, the station must still alert listeners through on-air announcements as to where those rules are available (see our articles here and here).  In writing their contest rules, the station should anticipate all the glitches that might occur in the contest process and spell out what will happen if one of these problems crops up.  Obviously, a prize becoming unavailable is a frequent issue.  Technical glitches also can become issues (e.g., phone lines not working or text message programs misidentifying the proper winner).  These should be anticipated, with explanations of what will happen should any of these occur.  What will happen may differ if the glitch occurs before the contest has been conducted (where you need to decide how to treat those who already entered) or after the prize has been awarded (e.g., as in this week’s cases, where substitute prizes were given).  Anticipate the unexpected.
Continue Reading Two FCC Fines for Contests Where Prizes Not Awarded on a Timely Basis – What Broadcasters Should Watch Out for in Conducting Contests

Here are some of the FCC actions of 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 FCC’s Enforcement Bureau entered into negotiated settlements with two Boston-area pirate radio operators who admitted to illegal operations and

July is usually a month of family vacations and patriotic celebrations.  While the pandemic has seen to it that those activities, if they happen at all, will look different than they have in years past, there are plenty of regulatory obligations to fill a broadcaster’s long, summer days.  Here are a few of the dates and deadlines to watch for in July, and a quick reminder of some of the significant filings due right at the beginning of August.

On or before July 10, all TV and radio stations must upload to their public file their Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists for the 2nd quarter (April, May and June).  Stations that took advantage of the FCC’s extension of time to file their 1st quarter (January, February and March) list must also by July 10 upload that list to their public file.  As a reminder, the Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists are a station’s evidence of how it operated in the public interest, demonstrating its treatment of its community’s most significant issues.  The FCC has shown (see here and here) that it takes this requirement seriously and will fine stations, hold up license renewals, or both if it finds problems with a station’s compliance.  For a short video on complying with the Quarterly Issues/Programs List requirement, see here.
Continue Reading July Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: End of the TV Repacking, Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists, Children’s Television Reporting, EEO, Carriage Election Public File Information Deadline, LPTV Settlement Window, Rulemaking Comments and More

Here are some of the regulatory actions of 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:

  • FEMA announced that it has canceled the 2020 test of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which is

Should broadcasters be able to originate programming on FM translators?  Playing off the proposal to allow limited amounts of programming on FM boosters – basically the insertion of local ads, news, or emergency alerts – in the zonecasting proposal on which the FCC took comments earlier this year (see our summary here), a group of broadcasters has taken the proposal one step further, and asked if translators (including those FM translators rebroadcasting AM stations) should not have the same rights proposed for boosters.  Comments on this proposal (available here) are due July 23.

These comments were originally filed in connection with the zonecasting proceeding (see our summary of the comments here).  But they go beyond the zonecasting proposal for limited amounts of origination programming on boosters, and seek to expand the amount of time that translators can originate programming different than their primary stations.  The advocates propose not just the substitution of short messages, but to allow translators to originate as much as 40 hours per week of programming different than that offered on their primary stations.  And the proposal also suggests that translators be allowed to be located within the primary station’s 45 dbu contour, rather than within the 60 dbu contour of an FM primary station as now required (playing off the 45 dbu contour now being used as the one in which primary FM stations can claim protection from interference from FM translators – see our article here).
Continue Reading FCC Seeking Comment on the Origination of Programming by FM Translators

The question about what to do with the protections offered by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act took another turn this week, when Joe Biden suggested that online platforms needed to take responsibility for the content posted on them and correct misinformation in those ads.  That position is seemingly the opposite of the President’s Executive Order about which we wrote here and here, which seemingly suggests that no censorship should be applied against political speech on these platforms – or certainly no censorship against certain kinds of speech that is not applied against speech from all other parties on that platform.  Facebook almost immediately posted this response, defending its position not to censor candidate’s speech and analogizing it to the position that television and radio broadcasters are forced by Congress to take – where by law they are not allowed to refuse to run a political ad from a candidate because of its content and they are shielded from liability because of their inability to censor these candidate ads.  Facebook took the position that, if Congress wants to regulate political speech, it should pass laws to do so, but that Facebook would not itself be a censor.  That position reminded us of an article that we wrote back in January when there were calls to make Facebook stop running political ads comparing the regulatory schemes that apply to political ads on different platforms.  Given its new relevance in light of the sudden prominence of the debate over Section 230, we thought that we would rerun our earlier article.  Here it is – and we note how we seemingly anticipated the current debate in our last paragraph:

[In January], the New York Times ran an article seemingly critical of Facebook for not rejecting ads  from political candidates that contained false statements of fact.  We have already written that this policy of Facebook matches the policy that Congress has imposed on broadcast stations and local cable franchisees who sell time to political candidates – they cannot refuse an ad from a candidate’s authorized campaign committee based on its content – even if it is false or even defamatory (see our posts here and here for more on the FCC’s “no censorship” rule that applies to broadcasting and local cable systems).  As this Times article again raises this issue, we thought that we should again provide a brief recap of the rules that apply to broadcast and local cable political ad sales, and contrast these rules to those that currently apply to online advertising.
Continue Reading Facebook Defends Not Censoring Political Ads – Looking at the Differences In Regulation of Political Speech on Different Communications Platforms

We summarized the provisions of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act on Monday, looking at the application of the law that the President has sought to change through the Executive Order released last week.  Today, it’s time to look at what the Executive Order purports to do and what practical effects it might have on media companies, including broadcasters.  As we noted in our first article, the reach of Section 230 is broad enough that any company with an online presence where content is created and posted by someone other than the site owner is protected by Section 230 – so that would include the online properties of almost every media company has.

The Executive Order has four distinct action items directed to different parts of the government.  The first, which has perhaps received the most publicity in the broadcast world, is the President’s direction that the Department of Commerce, acting through its National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA – the Executive Branch office principally responsible for telecommunications policy), file a petition for rulemaking at the FCC.  This petition would ask that the FCC review Section 230 to determine if the protections afforded by the law are really as broad as they have been interpreted by the courts.  The Executive Order suggests that the FCC should review whether the ability granted by the law for an online platform to curate content posted by others – the “Good Samaritan” provisions that we wrote about on Monday – could trigger a loss of protections from civil liability for third-party content if sites exercise the curation rights in a manner that is not deemed to be in “good faith”.  The Executive Order directs this inquiry even though the protections for hosting online content are in a separate subsection of the law from the language granting the ability to curate content, and the protections from liability for third-party content contain no good faith language.  The Order suggests that the FCC should find that there would not be “good faith” if the reasons given for the curation actions were “pretextual,” if there was no notice and right to be heard by the party whose content is curated, and if the curation is contrary to the service’s terms of use.  The Order suggests that the FCC should adopt rules to clarify these issues.
Continue Reading Looking at the President’s Executive Order on Online Media – Part 2, What Real Risk Does It Pose for Media Companies?

When the President issues an Executive Order asking for examination of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which permitted the growth of so many Internet companies, broadcasters and other media companies ask what effect the action may have on their operations.  On an initial reading, the impact of the order is very uncertain, as much of it simply calls on other government agencies to review the actions of online platforms.  But, given its focus on “online platforms” subject to the immunity from liability afforded by Section 230, and given the broad reach of Section 230 protections as interpreted by the Courts to cover any website or web platform that hosts content produced by others, the ultimate implications of any change in policy affecting these protections could be profound.  A change in policy could affect not only the huge online platforms that it appears to target, but even media companies that allow public comments on their stories, contests that call for the posting of content developed by third parties to be judged for purposes of awarding prizes, or the sites of content aggregators who post content developed by others (e.g. podcast hosting platforms).

Today, we will look at what Section 230 is, and the practical implications of the loss of its protections would have for online services.  The implications include the potential for even greater censorship by these platforms of what is being posted online – seemingly the opposite of the intent of the Executive Order triggered by the perceived limitations imposed on tweets of the President and on the social media posts of other conservative commentators.   In a later post, we’ll look at some of the other provisions of the Executive Order, and the actions that it is asks other government agencies (including the FCC and the FTC) to take. 
Continue Reading The President’s Executive Order on Online Media – What Does Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act Provide?

Here are some of the FCC regulatory and legal actions of 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 FCC released the agenda for its June 9 Open Meeting announcing that it will consider an