The FCC requires each full-power broadcast station, commercial and noncommercial, to maintain a public inspection file. Even though this is a longstanding FCC requirement, there are always questions about what goes into the file, and how long those materials must be retained. The week before last, I conducted a webinar for about 20 state broadcast associations on the FCC’s public file requirements for broadcast stations. The slides from that presentation, outlining the requirements for the file, and the required retention period for many of the documents that make up that file, are available here.
While many broadcasters wonder if the public file is really worth the time that it takes to maintain given the nonexistent traffic to view that file at most stations, the FCC has continued to insist on its importance – fining or otherwise sanctioning stations for missing or late filed documents. See, for instance, this case admonishing a TV station for failing to get all of its documents into its online public file in a timely fashion (an admonishment is the equivalent of putting a demerit in the station’s permanent record that could be considered as a prior violation in assessing fines if the FCC finds the station in violation for some other offence). Particularly at license renewal time, a complete public file can be crucial, as missing documents lead to big fines (see, for instance, our articles here and here), and failure to disclose those missing documents can lead to even more harsh penalties (see our article here). So maintaining an accurate and complete public file is important. Quarterly issues programs lists are often the most overlooked requirement.