In 2008, the FCC adopted a requirement that broadcast stations include in their advertising contracts a provision that says that advertisers will not discriminate on the basis of race or gender.  We wrote about that requirement here, and our post was greeted with significant surprise by many broadcasters as the requirement did not glean much publicity when it was first adopted.  Today, the FCC issued an Erratum to that two year old requirement, eliminating from the certification its application to discrimination in advertising based on gender.  Instead, the Erratum stated it was only discrimination based on race or ethnicity that was prohibited.  The Erratum stated that this language "more accurately" reflected the "Commission’s clear intent" in adopting the requirement for the certification in advertising contracts.

The removal of "gender" from the advertising discrimination certification seems to recognize the common-sense advertising principal that some advertising, by its very nature, may be targeted to one gender or another.  But the correction of this language through an Erratum seems to avoid many of the hard issues that remain with this certification.  The Commission was very terse in its explanation of how this certification was supposed to work and exactly what it was supposed to prevent.  There were certain situations that seem to fit within the prohibitions – situations where the advertiser of a general market product refuses to allow it to be advertised on stations that target minority audiences (see our discussion of the Mini Cooper advertising controversy here).  This was to avoid the "no Spanish, no urban dictates", ruling out advertising on stations with urban formats or those programmed in Spanish, that some felt were attached to some advertising orders.  But there are many other questions that remain to be clarified.


Continue Reading FCC Corrects Advertising Nondiscrimination Certification – Removes Gender From Certification

A request for advertising rates by an ad agency representing the Mini Cooper serves as a reminder to broadcasters of the recently-imposed obligation to insure that broadcast advertisers do not discriminate on the basis of race or gender.  As we wrote several months ago, the FCC has adopted a new requirement that a broadcaster certify at license renewal time that their advertising contracts require advertisers certify that they were not making advertising decisions based on the race or gender of the audience of the broadcast station.  This was to eliminate the "no urban/no Spanish" dictates that many felt were a discriminatory part of the advertising landscape.  As demonstrated by the controversy that erupted when this request for rates was circulated, stations need to insure that their contracts contain language prohibiting discrimination in advertising buys, as any such dictates will not be a secret.  And once they get out, if a station has run a campaign purchased by an advertiser who had included such dictates, the station running the campaign may have difficulty in making the required certification as the station knows that the actions of the advertiser contradict any certifications that the advertiser may have made in signing the station advertising contract containing the required certifications.

Our earlier post on the issue suggested some language to include in an advertising contract disclaimer, and also discussed the issue of the positive use of racial or gender advertising specifications for ads targeting minority and gender specific audiences.  But the issue in the Mini Cooper case makes clear that many in the advertising community, and probably many in the media community, do not know about the adoption of the FCC’s policy, or the proposal to extend the policy to cable advertising.  It is also interesting to note that the FCC has refused to provide more specific guidance on this rule, not even specifying the language that should be used in contracts.  Nor has the new license renewal form containing the required certification that the broadcaster must make about his compliance with this rule been released, making it unclear if this form has even passed review by the Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork Reduction Act. 


Continue Reading Mini Cooper Ad Request Reminds Broadcasters of No Urban Dictate Certification

The FCC’s Notice of Inquiry and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Sponsorship Identification issues (which we summarized in our firm’s advisory and about which we wrote here), which deals with a host of issues including embedded advertising and product placement, was published in the Federal Register late last week, starting the clock on

On Friday, the FCC showed released two decisions – both dealing with a handful of inadvertent violations of the Commission’s rules on advertising directed to children. In one case, a licensee admitted in its license renewal application 4 violations of the rules and was fined $8,000. In another, the licensee admitted 8 violations, received no fine at all, instead being only admonished for its errors. Why the difference?

The FCC justified the difference in treatment based on the nature of the violations.  In reality, the station that did not receive any fine actually broadcast more commercial material in excess of the limits on the amount of advertising permitted in children’s program than did the station that was fined. The reason – “program length commercials.” These are instances where, in a commercial message, a character from the surrounding program appears. In that situation, the FCC considers the entire program as a commercial, and thus the violation is considered much more serious than a mere overage in the time limits on commercial material in children’s programs. The station that received the fine had 3 program length commercials, while the station that was not fined simply ran more commercial matter than permitted by the rules – and did not have any program length commercials. But are these distinctions really justified?


Continue Reading Plan Your Inadvertent Errors Carefully – A Fine for Children’s Television Violations May be at Stake