Programming Regulations

The developments surrounding the regulation of cannabis products, and the impact of that regulation on the ability of broadcasters and other media companies to run ads for these products, continue on an almost daily basis.  Of course, the developments don’t all point in a single direction.  As described below, at the same time as the FDA schedules a hearing to look at cannabis products and the rules that should apply to them, the FTC and FDA together have written warning letters to CBD marketers advising them to stay away from making specific health claims about their products and to avoid promoting edible products.  What does this mean for media companies that have been approached to advertise these products?

We very recently wrote about the murky state of the law on CBD advertising (mentioning our continuing concerns about marijuana advertising even in states where it has been “legalized”).  In that article, we warned that broadcasters should be particularly concerned about selling advertising that markets CBD products to be ingested, or advertising which makes unsupported health claims.  In a joint action announced last week, the FTC and the FDA wrote letters to three sellers of CBD products, warning those companies that their marketing raised legal issues.  In these letters, the FTC expressed concern that the marketing contained health claims that could not be substantiated, and the FDA was concerned about the marketing of supplements and other CDB products to be taken orally that had not been approved by the FDA as either foods or medicines.  At least one of the letters cited a “salve” that presumably was not to be ingested, so the concern there seemed to be solely the specific health claims made for the product.  These letters reinforce the concerns that we expressed about advertising that contains specific health claims or which deals with products to be taken by mouth (either as dietary supplements, medicines or in other foods) – so stations should be especially wary of such ads. 
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The FCC has once again started sending out email notices to broadcast stations that are not in compliance with their online public file obligations. This follows a set of notices sent in early December, where the FCC first warned specific stations that there were issues with their online public inspection files (see our article here). The new email notices seem to be sent to two classes of stations – those that have done nothing to their online public files, and those that have activated the files, but not uploaded their Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists to those files. Some of the new notices follow up on notices sent in December. Both sets of notices ask for reports to the FCC from the stations that received the notice of corrective actions that they have taken.

We have been warning of the FCC’s concern about incomplete or inactive online public files for some time, and the potential impact that noncompliance could have on license renewals, which start for radio stations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia in June 2019, with pre-filing public announcements of those filings due to begin on April 1 (see our article here). The renewal obligation for radio moves across the country with stations in a few specific states filing every other month in this three-year renewal cycle (for more information see, for instance, our articles here and here). Clearly, this set of emails is a warning to stations that the FCC is watching their public files, and that compliance problems will bring issues, and probably fines, if the files are not complete by license renewal time. The emails that have been sent out do not target every station in noncompliance with the public file obligations – but instead seem to just be a sampling of those stations – so do not relax and assume compliance simply because you did not receive any contact from the FCC.
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The FCC this week launched an inquiry into whether the TV Parental Guidelines and the organization that oversees these ratings provide accurate information to viewers as to which TV programs are appropriate for children. The FCC released a Public Notice to initiate the inquiry at the direction of Congress in the recently passed Consolidated Appropriations Bill – the Bill which ended the threat of a second government shutdown. That Bill contained a number of provisions directing various government agencies to take specific actions, including a direction to the FCC to provide a report to Congress in 90 days on the “extent to which the rating system matches the video content that is being shown” and whether the TV Parental Guidelines Oversight Monitoring Board (which oversees the ratings system) has the ability to address public concerns about the ratings. With the report due to be submitted to Congress by May 15, the FCC has asked for public comment on an expedited basis, with comments due March 12, and replies due just a week later on March 19.

The Board was established by a voluntary industry initiative approved by the FCC following a Congressional mandate for V-Chip technology in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. For the V-Chip to work, programs have to be rated. The ratings that resulted are familiar to most TV viewers and range from TV-Y programming appropriate for all children to TV-MA, appropriate only for mature audiences. Programs are also rated for Violence (“V”), Fantasy Violence in programming for older children (“FV”), Sexual Content (“S”), Suggestive Dialogue (“D”) and Strong Language (“L”). These ratings are applied to most TV and cable programming except news, sports, and ads. Based on the claims by interest groups that the ratings do not accurately describe the programming, Congress issued this directive to the FCC. What questions does the FCC ask in its request for comments from the public?
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Commercial television broadcast stations that are affiliated with one of the top four commercial television broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) and are located in the top 60 television markets are required to provide 50 hours per calendar quarter of video-described prime time or children’s programming, and to provide an additional 37.5 hours

This morning, the FCC has started to email out notices to numerous radio stations throughout the country, notifying them that there are issues with their online public inspection files. The email notices do not reveal what the specific problem is – but instead simply say that there are issues and ask for notice of

As we have written before, the next license renewal cycle begins on June 1, 2019, with radio stations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia submitting their applications. Radio renewals proceed in with applications every other month from a state or group of states (the schedule is available on the FCC

By March 1 of 2018, all radio stations were to have activated their online public file. We wrote about how that activation should be done here, and answered other questions about the online public file for radio here. Yet, from my own review, and from what I have heard from engineers who

The FCC yesterday adopted an Order eliminating the requirement that broadcasters file with the Commission copies of certain contracts, agreements and other documents relating to ownership and control – instead relying on the obligations to either upload the documents to a station’s online public file, or to place a list of the documents in the

The FCC this week released its draft order proposing to eliminate the requirement that broadcasters file certain contracts relating to ownership and control with the Commission. Instead, the disclosure of these documents will be made simply by observing the current requirement that stations either (1) make those documents available in the station’s online public file, or (2) make available a list of the required documents in the online public file with the documents themselves provided within 7 days to anyone who requests them, including the FCC. Certain other clarifications about the disclosure of such documents were contained in the draft order, which is expected to be adopted at the FCC meeting on October 23.

Among the documents that are required to be in the public file are those showing the governance of the license entity (e.g., articles of incorporation and bylaws); options and other documents related to future ownership rights; joint sales and time brokerage agreements; and television network affiliation agreements.   In the draft order, the FCC requires that such documents be included in the online public file (either in full or by inclusion on the list) within 30 days of execution, or within 30 days of any amendment or other modification of the agreement. If only a list of the documents is provided in the file, all the information that is required on an Ownership Report, where such documents are listed, would be required – including the name of the parties involved and the execution and expiration dates of the agreements.
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E-cig advertising has been one of those areas where broadcasters and other media companies have been looking warily at the potential for regulatory intervention. So far, as we wrote here, the FDA has only required general disclosures that “e-cigs contain nicotine and that nicotine is an addictive chemical” – an obligation that took