FCC political disclosure

Last week, the FCC entered into a consent decree with the operator of a low power TV station, where the broadcaster admitted to violating FCC rules by selling advertising packages that included guaranteed appearances of the advertiser on a local news and information program, without any notice to viewers that the programming was sponsored.  The decree imposed a 5-year compliance plan on the licensee, requiring the training of employees on sponsorship identification requirements of the FCC rules, the adoption of plans to ensure that the issue does not arise again, and the reporting to the FCC of any similar issues that arise in the future.  In addition, the licensee had to pay a $60,000 penalty – and the language of the decree suggests that this fine would have been significantly larger had the licensee been able to pay more (as it was, the licensee is allowed to pay off the penalty in $1000 per month increments). This penalty should not be a surprise, as the conduct raises significant sponsorship identification issues, as well as a host of issues under the FCC’s political broadcasting rules.

Having paid appearances in local programming without a sponsorship identification has in the past been a source of FCC concern – and has resulted in big penalties where a sponsor is not disclosed to the public.  For instance, we wrote here about a fine of more than $13 million imposed on Sinclair Broadcasting for running feature stories about a local cancer institute that had been promised to the institute as part of a paid advertising package, without disclosing the payment on-air.  Any time a broadcaster receives anything of value in exchange for saying something on the air, the broadcaster needs to disclose that consideration and who provided it.  Even program suppliers need to disclose that they have been paid when they have been paid to say something on the air.  For more information, see, for example our article here where a TV political commentator was required to disclose that he was being paid to support certain political positions, and our article here on requiring program syndicators to make clear when programming they provide has been sponsored.  The FCC’s recent rules about the disclosure of foreign government-sponsored programming (see our articles here and here) also require that broadcasters assure that any buyer of program time on the station has not itself been paid by a foreign government or their agent to say something in their programming.
Continue Reading $60,000 Fine on LPTV Station For Political Broadcasting and Sponsorship Identification Issues with Ad Packages Containing News Program Appearances

Two weeks ago, we wrote about the complaints filed against 11 big-market TV stations about deficiencies in the political broadcasting paperwork in their online public file.  This week, the FCC’s Office of Political Broadcasting in its Media Bureau sent letters to all of the stations involved, asking that the stations respond to the complaints and provide details about the factual assertions that were made, by May 27.  At the same time, the FCC Chairman issued a Statement, reminding TV broadcasters of the importance of the political file, and how seriously the FCC takes any violations of its rules.

While having the FCC staff respond to complaints with requests for more information is not unusual, the speed with which the letters were sent is.  Rarely does a complaint trigger an FCC response in less than two weeks.  And rarer still is an accompanying press release from the FCC Chair talking about the importance of the subject matter of the complaint.  These actions only serve to highlight what we wrote last week – that stations need to be vigilant in reviewing their online public files – and particularly the political files – to make sure that the records are accurate and timely.  And, as stations in smaller markets need to be ready to put their political files online by July 1, they need to be prepared as well. 
Continue Reading FCC Chairman Reminds TV Broadcasters of the Importance of their Online Political File Obligations as its Staff Investigates Complaints about Deficiencies