broadcast public interest obligations

Last week, in our calendar of regulatory dates for broadcasters in July, we reminded broadcasters that their Quarterly Issues Programs lists needed to be placed in their public file by today, July 10. This quarterly requirement has been in place for over 30 years, but is still an obligation whose breach has led to

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.
Continue Reading The Care and Feeding of the Broadcast Public Inspection File – Requirements and Retention Periods, A Presentation on the Issues

Two recent decisions, the most high profile being the renewal of the Fox television stations in the New York City area, demonstrate the analysis that the FCC goes through in deciding if a station has operated in the public interest and if its license deserves to be renewed.  In the Fox case, the focus was on the public service record of the station, and in particular whether the station had adequately addressed the issues of importance to the residents of New Jersey, the state to which one of its TV stations is licensed.  In a second recent case, that of a California radio station, the issue was much more specific – whether the station had promoted illegal drug use, and whether one of the station’s on-air program hosts had been abusive to callers.  In both cases, recognizing the First Amendment concerns posed by second guessing a broadcaster’s programming decisions, the FCC granted the license renewals.

In the Fox case, the issues were broader in nature.  The Fox station WWOR was licensed to New Jersey – in fact receiving a special license renewal when its then-owner, RKO General, was fighting the loss of its other broadcast licenses for issues involving purported lack of candor with the FCC.  The WWOR renewal was granted when Congress passed very specific legislation agreeing to grant the license of any TV station that moved to a state with no VHF television service (which, at that time, was the superior transmission service for TV).  RKO agreed to move WOR from New York City to Secaucus, NJ and received a license renewal as NJ had no VHF stations at that time.  The renewal was granted with the expectation that, as a NJ station, its public interest programming would focus on NJ.  Whether the service provided by current licensee Fox to NJ was the issue that the FCC addressed in the license renewal challenge.
Continue Reading FCC Decisions, Including Fox TV Renewals, Focus on FCC Limits in Assessing Programming Claims in Reviewing License Renewals

The FCC today issued the long-awaited text of its decision on Digital Audio radio – the so-called IBOC system.  As we have written, while adopted at its March meeting, the text of the decision has been missing in action.  With the release of the decision, which is available here, the effective date of the new rules can be set in the near future – 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register.  With the Order, the Commission also released its Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, addressing a host of new issues – some not confined to digital radio, but instead affecting the obligations of all radio operations.

The text provides the details for many of the actions that were announced at the March meeting, including authorizing the operation of AM stations in a digital mode at night, and the elimination of the requirements that stations ask permission for experimental operations before commencing multicast operations.  The Order also permits the use of dual antennas – one to be used solely for digital use – upon notification to the FCC.  In addition, the order addresses several other matters not discussed at the meeting, as set forth below. 


Continue Reading FCC Issues Rules on Digital Radio – With Some Surprises that Could Eventually Impact Analog Operations

Two long awaited broadcast items seem to be missing in action at the FCC. Both the final rules on digital radio ("HD radio") and the Commission’s Notice of Proposed rulemaking on using FM translators to fill in gaps of the signals of AM stations, while expected quite a while ago, have still not been released by the FCC. The digital radio item, adopting rules on digital radio, eliminating the need to file for experimental authority for multi-channel FM operations and allowing AM stations to operate digitally at night, was adopted by the FCC at its meeting in March, yet the final text of the decision still hasn’t been released.  As the text has not been released, the effective date of the new rules has not been set.  Those AM stations ready to kick on their nighttime digital operations continue to wait.

As we explained in our previous posting on this matter, here, the digital radio order also contains a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, addressing issues such as the public interest obligations of broadcasters on their multicast digital channels. That was one of the items that was supposedly delayed the action that finally occurred at the March meeting, and perhaps it is delaying the release of the text of the order in this proceeding


Continue Reading Radio Items Missing In Action at the FCC