What are a noncommercial broadcaster’s obligations with respect to the political file and the rest of the FCC’s political broadcasting rules? That is a question that I have heard asked several times in the last few weeks as we approach this most important, and contentious, election. In short, I think that the answer to this question is that, in most cases, a noncommercial broadcaster will have few if any political file obligations. Why?
Broadcast stations that are licensed as noncommercial do not have any reasonable access requirements. What that means is that noncommercial stations do not have any obligation to sell time to political candidates or to make any free time available to the candidates for their messages. Years ago, reasonable access did apply to noncommercial stations, but when a DC-area congressional candidate used the statutory reasonable access requirements to force a local NPR affiliate (to which many on Capitol Hill listened) to air political commercials, Congress acted to abolish the reasonable access requirement as it applied to noncommercial stations. So, as noncommercial stations do not need to sell political time to candidates, they are not faced with the political file obligations which have triggered scrutiny from the FCC in recent months. But that is not to say that there could never be a political file obligation for a noncommercial station.
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