Programming Regulations

Every year at about this time, with April Fools’ Day right around the corner, 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 has a rule against on-air hoaxes, and there can be liability issues with false alerts that are run on a station.  Issues like these 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 How an April Fools’ Day On-Air Prank Gone Wrong Could Result in FCC Issues

For the first time since October, we can say that the federal government is funded for the rest of the fiscal year (through the end of September) so we do not expect to have to report on any threats of a government shutdown for many months. With that worry off our plate, we can look at the dates that broadcasters do need to pay attention to in the month of April.

First, we’ll look at the most significant routine filing deadlines coming up in April.  April 1 is the deadline for radio and television station employment units in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas with five or more full-time employees to upload their Annual EEO Public File Report to their stations’ online public inspection files.  A station employment unit is a station or cluster of commonly controlled stations serving the same general geographic area having at least one common employee.  For employment units with five or more full-time employees, the annual 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 each station’s website, if the station has a website.  Be timely getting these reports into your public file, as even a single late report can lead to FCC fines (see our article here about a recent $26,000 fine for a single late EEO report).

The filing of the Annual EEO Public File Reports for radio station employment units in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee with eleven or more full-time employees triggers a Mid-Term EEO Review, where the FCC will analyze the last two Annual Reports for compliance with FCC requirements.  There is no form to file to initiate this review but, when radio stations located in those states with five or more full-time employees are required to upload to their public file their annual EEO Public File Report, they must also indicate in the online public file whether their employment unit has eleven or more full-time employees, using a checkbox now included in the public file’s EEO folder.  This allows the FCC to determine which station groups need a Mid-Term Review.  See our articles here and here on Mid-Term EEO Review reporting requirements for radio stations.Continue Reading April Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – EEO Reports, Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists, LUC Windows, Rulemaking Comments, and More

In October 2022, I noted in an article that many broadcasters were totally confused by the FCC’s rules requiring that they seek certifications as to whether or not a foreign government is behind anyone buying programming time on a broadcast station.  In our 2022 article, we noted that, even though broadcasters did not fully understand the existing rule, the FCC was considering expanding that requirement to require use of a specific form to obtain these certifications from program buyers.  From notices filed with the FCC recently, it appears that there have been several meetings with the Commission and representatives of the broadcasting community about these proposed enhanced certifications, making it appear that the FCC is nearing a decision.  It appears that the new certifications, if adopted, will be very cumbersome, particularly for the unsophisticated program buyers who are likely to be many of the buyers of program time on small market stations.  These buyers are likely to find the certification process somewhat intimidating, and may even be scared off from buying any broadcast programming time as a result.  We thought we should take another look at what is already required and what is now being proposed.

Currently, the certifications that broadcasters must obtain from a program buyer 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.  They cover not only those who buy program time on a broadcast station, but also those that provide program time free to broadcasters with the understanding that the programming will be aired.  The certifications do not cover programming that the broadcaster buys (either for money or through barter – including by giving the programming supplier advertising time that the programmer can resell in exchange for the programming).  And they are not required for spot advertising buys. Continue Reading FCC Still Reviewing Plan to Expand Broadcasters’ Obligations to Obtain Certifications from All Program Buyers on their Connection to Foreign Governments – What is Being Proposed? 

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.

  • Congress passed, and the President signed, a continuing resolution to extend funding for the Federal government, including the FCC, averting

When you have been representing broadcasters in Washington for as long as I have, you see cycles in regulation of the industry.  I was reminded of how long the FCC has been on a deregulatory cycle in reading today’s Washington Post obituary of former Democratic FCC Chair Charlie Ferris, who headed the FCC many decades ago when I interned there and when I later started to work in private practice representing broadcasters.  One line in the Post article in particular stood out – where Ferris was said to have “argued that unless regulations were ‘improving the market,’ they ‘were nothing but a nuisance.’”  Since the administration of Chairman Ferris, the FCC has generally moved forward to implement that philosophy of eliminating unnecessary regulation, with only occasional consideration given to the reinstatement of certain regulations (efforts that were often unsuccessful).  With the spate of recent rulings from the FCC, one questions whether the direction that Chairman Ferris pointed the FCC is now being slowed or reversed at a time when the market may well be crying out for an increase in the speed of that deregulation.

The obituary itself quoted one media observer as suggesting that the deregulatory direction in which Ferris took the FCC might not have been entirely successful, based on a persistent lack of minority ownership of broadcast properties, and “’a shortage of local, professional, accountable reporting’ in many communities.”  But are those failings ones that are attributable to the deregulatory trends of the FCC, or greater marketplace forces that have strained not just broadcasting but all traditional media?  In reading the media headlines in the last few weeks, one can’t help but conclude that the latter is more likely the cause, and that another quote from Chairman Ferris cited in the article has never been more appropriate, as he warned broadcasters: “If you cannot compete with new technologies, you will be overcome by them.”  As we’ve argued in this blog before (see for instance our article here reflecting on the warnings of another former Chairman, Ajit Pai), given the slew of new technologies available to consumers, imposing new rules on a broadcast industry flooded with new competition for audience and revenues simply does not make sense.Continue Reading Just Because the FCC Can Regulate Broadcasting, Should It? 

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from this 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.

Last week, when the NFL playoffs and upcoming Super Bowl had everyone thinking football, Congress held a hearing on how streaming media has affected sports and other video programming rights.  We noted that hearing in our weekly update this weekend.  As we said in our update, the hearing touched on all the video media issues of the day – sports rights, retransmission consent, the changing balance between pay TV (cable and satellite) versus streaming, and similar issues (the House staff memo outlining the issues to be discussed at the hearing can be viewed here, and a video of the hearing can be viewed here).  During the discussion, there were even some questions about whether there needed to be some local access mandates for some forms of programming – whether that be sports or, probably more importantly, access to emergency information.  In some sense, that discussion provided some faint echoes of the debate over mandates to preserve AM radio in the car (see our articles here and here).  The discussion, and a review of recent articles on accessing sports events without pay TV that omit any discussion of over-the-air television, makes clear that everyone in the industry needs to do more to emphasize the role that over-the-air television plays in the media landscape before those faint echoes of the AM debate become pronounced.

While the hearing touched how some local television stations have been able to acquire some sports rights from failing regional sports networks and expand the viewership for those games, the role of local television broadcasting was overshadowed by the discussion of the rights issues and streaming video.  Yet the role of local media, including local television, is one that pervades many of the regulatory debates ongoing at the FCC.  The FCC and NAB are cooperating with other industry stakeholders in exploring the role of over-the-air television in connection with the roll out of the new ATSC 3.0 “Next Gen” television transmission standard.  The health of local television, and whether local ownership restrictions should be lessened to ensure that television can better compete from digital media that is directly affecting both the audiences and advertising revenue of every station, was part of the debate over the Quadrennial Review decision released by the FCC in December, and this issue is likely to be debated in any appeal that may follow from that decision.  Local over-the-air television also is under consideration in many other pending FCC proceedings, including possible review of the main studio rules, priority processing of applications proposing local programming, emergency communications issues, and many other topics under consideration at the FCC. Continue Reading Sports Rights, the Super Bowl, and the Perception of Local Over-the-Air TV

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 announced the circulation for Commissioner review and approval of two decisions of interest to broadcasters, signifying that we