The FCC yesterday released its tentative agenda for its January meeting, to be held on January 31. This will be the first meeting of the post-Chairman Wheeler era, and the two Republican commissioners will be in the majority for the first time in 8 years. There is a single item on the tentative agenda
How to deal with a noncommercial radio station’s public inspection file when the station is licensed to a college and has a main studio in a restricted-access student residence hall is a question that I have received repeatedly when I have conducted sessions on FCC rules at noncommercial broadcasters’ conventions and meetings. In a consent decree reached with a college and announced by the FCC on Friday, the FCC’s Media Bureau has suggested how this issue should be dealt with – by asking for a waiver of the Commission’s rules to allow the file to be maintained at another campus building which has access for the public during normal business hours.
In that case, the Bucknell University station had its main studio in a residence hall not open to the public, and it kept its public file at the student center, another campus building to which the public had access. While the station posted a sign at the entrance to the residence hall where the main studio was housed that the public file was at the student center, and instructed campus security that this was where anyone who asked for the file should be directed, the college had not asked the FCC for a waiver of Section 73.3527(b)(1), which requires that the public file of a noncommercial station be kept at the main studio of the station. In the Consent Decree, the FCC agreed to waive the FCC rules to allow the public file to remain at the student center location, balancing the needs of the public for access to the file with the security needs of the college. Nevertheless, the licensee made a $2200 “contribution” to the US treasury for not having previously asked for a waiver of the rules to locate the files at a location other than its main studio, and for also failing to include in its files Quarterly Issues Programs lists for several years during the license renewal term in which these issues arose.…
Continue Reading The Location of the Public Inspection File of a College Radio Station When the Station’s Main Studio is in a Building Not Open to the General Public Addressed in FCC Consent Decree
The online public inspection file for radio is moving closer to reality at an unusually fast pace. Yesterday, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, seeking to expand the online public file requirements that now apply to broadcast TV stations to radio (see our summary of the obligations here, and a presentation that we did on those requirements, here). The rulemaking proposal also looks to adopt online public file obligations for cable systems, satellite television systems, and Sirius XM. Comments will be due 30 days after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register.
The NPRM proposes a phased-in approach to these obligations for radio. It would first require the online public files only for stations in the top 50 Nielsen (formerly Arbitron) markets which employ five or more full-time employees. The Commission chose these stations to begin the process, reasoning that they are subject to the EEO rules and would thus have EEO reporting obligations (which are already online for most station, albeit on their own station websites), and would have more resources to meet any obligation that the rule imposes. The Top 50 markets were also the starting point for the roll out of these obligations for TV stations, and are likely also in areas where there is significant political broadcasting activity. The NPRM asks whether a six month period to implement the new requirements from the effective date of any set of new rules would be appropriate.…
Continue Reading Online Public File for Radio – and Satellite and Cable – Moves Closer to Reality – FCC Issues Formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
In a decision just released, the FCC fined a noncommercial FM station $8000 for failing to make its public inspection file available when it was requested. The FCC made clear that past cases where a noncommercial station was given only an admonition for similar violations were no longer good law, finding that the public file was an important part of the station’s obligations to the public and the failure to make it available was a serious violation. This case should serve as a warning to all stations, commercial and noncommercial, that they need to have people at the station at all times who know where the public file is located, and that all visitors who request access to the file need to be given such access.
This case was perhaps a bit more egregious than most, as the visitor who requested access to the fine was known to the station, as the person was employed by a college that had tried unsuccessfully to buy the station. After its request to purchase the station was turned down, the prospective buyer had allegedly filed a number of pleadings at the FCC trying to force the licensee to sell the station. When the person appeared at the station to request access to the public file, the person was first told to return another day. After protesting that was illegal, an official of the College which is the station licensee, arrived at the scene and told the visitor that he had to leave, and could only view the public file after having made a prior appointment with the college’s attorney. When reached by phone, the attorney allegedly told the visitor to leave the premises or he would be arrested. Only when he returned another day, after being initially turned down yet again, was the visitor eventually able to persuade the station employees that refusal to give him access to the file was illegal. When he was finally able to gain access to the file, he stated that he found it to be incomplete.
The FCC today released another Public Notice announcing the random audit of the EEO performance of a number of broadcast stations – listing both radio and television stations that have to respond, with stations spread throughout the country. The FCC has promised to annually audit 5% of all broadcast licensees to assess their compliance with the FCC’s EEO rules. These rules require the wide dissemination of information about job openings at their stations and "supplemental efforts" to educate their communities about employment opportunities at broadcast stations, even in the absence of employment openings. The FCC’s audit letter requires the submission of two years worth of the Annual Public File reports that stations prepare each year on the anniversary date of the filing of their license renewal applications. These reports are placed in the station’s public file and posted on their websites (if they have websites). The FCC’s public notice about this audit emphasizes the requirement for posting the Annual Report on a station’s website, perhaps confirming rumors that we have heard about the FCC’s staffers browsing station websites to look for these reports.
Stations are given until May 4 to complete the audit responses and submit them to the Commission. Note that information needs to be supplied not just for the station named on the list, but also for all other stations in the same "station employment unit," i.e. a group of stations under common control, that serve the same general geographic area, and which have at least one common employee. As recent audits have led to significant FCC fines (see our story here about fines issues just before the holidays), broadcasters who are listed on this audit list should take care in preparing their responses. The audit notice should also remind other licensees who are lucky enough to avoid having been selected for inclusion on this audit list to review their EEO programs for FCC compliance purposes, as they could very well find themselves not so fortunate when the next FCC audit is announced.