Programming Regulations

For well over 50 years, the Supreme Court’s New York Times v. Sullivan decision has governed the principles applied by the courts when assessing any claim of defamation.  That standard requires that, to find a statement about a public figure to be defamatory, not only does the statement need to be false, but it also needs to have been conveyed with “actual malice.” The Sullivan decision generally defines actual malice as writing or publishing an incorrect harmful statement knowing that the statement was false, or with reckless disregard as to whether the statement was true or not.  See our articles here and here, on this standard.  Because of this standard, the vast majority of defamation cases against public figures cannot be sustained, as it can rarely be proven that a defendant knew or should have known that a statement about a public figure was untrue.

In the recent past, there have been calls for this standard to be revisited.  Former President Trump was a big critic of the policy, thinking that he should have a greater ability to successfully sue media outlets over his claims of “fake news.”  Earlier this year, a prominent US Court of Appeals judge suggested that the doctrine should be abolished, using his dissenting opinion (at the end of this decision) to rail against big media companies and what he perceived to be their liberal bias.  This past week, two Supreme Court justices, Thomas and Gorsuch, issued dissenting opinions arguing that the Sullivan standard should change, in a case in which the Court decided not to review a lower court’s finding that a defamation case was precluded by the application of the Sullivan standards.  Justice Thomas has made this argument before (prior case here, new dissent here), but the dissenting opinion of Justice Gorsuch was the first time that he officially went on record calling for a modification of the standard.
Continue Reading Two Supreme Court Justices Try to Ignite Debate on Defamation Standards – What A Change Would Mean for Broadcasters News and Political Ad Sales

While summer has started and minds wander to vacation time, there are still many regulatory obligations to which a broadcaster must pay attention in July.  To help stay focused, we have written below about some of the important dates and deadlines applicable to broadcasters in July – and a reminder of what to be ready for when the calendar rolls over to August.

The one regular deadline applicable to all full-power and Class A TV broadcasters in July is the July 10 deadline for stations to upload to their online public file their Quarterly Issues Programs lists identifying the issues of importance to their community and the programs that they broadcast in the second quarter of the year that addressed those issues.  Prepare these lists carefully and accurately, as they are your only official records of how your station is serving the public and addressing the needs and interests of your community.  You need to first list the significant issues facing the station’s community in the second quarter.  Then, for each issue identified, you should list several programs that addressed the issue in some serious way.  For each program, the description should include the issue that the program addressed, the name of the program or segment that covered the issue, the date and time the program or segment aired, the duration of the coverage of the issue, and a narrative describing how the issue was treated.  Timely uploading of these lists to the station’s online public file is especially important during the ongoing license renewal cycle when FCC staff are looking closely at public file contents.  See our article here for more on this obligation.
Continue Reading July Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists, The End of Analog TV, EAS Test Registration Requirement, Radio and TV Rulemakings, 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.

  • The FCC asked for public comment on a proposal to increase from 100 to 250 watts the maximum power allowed

There can be no doubt that local newspapers have been significantly impacted over the last two decades by the ascent of the Internet.  And, as we have written before (see, for instance, our article here), digital media has also had a significant impact on the local revenues of broadcasters, who also have traditionally specialized in covering local events.  To study the effect of the decline in local news sources, legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate to create a government committee to look at various aspects of this issue. The “Future of Local News Committee” would include individuals appointed by the majority and minority in the House and Senate, as well as individuals selected by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, The National Endowment for the Humanities, and the US Agency for Global Media.  Each appointee is to be someone experienced in some aspect of local media.  The committee would have one year to deliver a report to Congress.

What would they study?  The legislation suggests that the committee would have broad investigatory powers to review how the change in local media has affected local communities.  The bill’s preface includes language stating that over 2000 newspapers have gone out of business since 2004, and that of the 6,700 remaining, 1000 could be classified as “ghost newspapers” whose staffs have been so reduced that they cannot effectively cover local events.  The bill also cites a Pew Research study that shows that local newsroom employees at newspapers, broadcast outlets and digital sources dropped 25% from 2008-2018.  Perhaps most startling is the statement that newspapers alone lost more than $35,000,000,000 in revenue between 2004 and 2018.  All these factors, and many others cited in the bill, are alleged to show that local media can no longer effectively cover local events.
Continue Reading Does Local News Need Government Assistance to Survive – Legislation Proposed to Set Up Commission to Study the Impact of Changes in Local Media on Local Communities  

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.

  • In a speech to the Media Institute, FCC Commissioner Starks spoke of the importance of diversity in media ownership and

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