FCC public interest obligations

On Friday, the FCC’s Audio Division released its first decision in the current renewal cycle addressing the issue of incomplete public inspection files and missing Quarterly Issues Programs List, proposing to fine an AM station in Virginia $15,000 for apparently not having any Issues Programs Lists in its online public inspection file for the entire renewal term.  The decision, found here, should serve as a warning to broadcasters to make sure that their online files are complete and up to date.

The facts of this case, summarized below, seem particularly egregious as the station had the same issue of missing issues programs lists when its last renewal was filed 8 years ago.  Nevertheless, we can expect that this won’t be the last fine we will see for stations that have incomplete public files.  The FCC has been sending out warnings about incomplete online files for the last year, and we’ve been warning (see, for instance, here and here) that, with all public inspection files now being available online, the FCC will likely be issuing fines during this renewal cycle if documents are missing from the file.  The Quarterly Issues Programs lists are seen by the FCC as being particularly important as they are the only official documents demonstrating the public interest programming that was actually broadcast by a station (see our article here). 
Continue Reading $15,000 Fine and Short-Term License Renewal Proposed for Radio Station Missing Issues Programs Lists in Its Online Public Inspection File

Starting June 1, 2019, just over a year from now, the next broadcast license renewal cycle will begin. By that date, radio stations in DC, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia must file their renewal applications. Every other month for the next 3 years will bring the filing of radio license renewals in another set of states. And television stations will begin their renewal cycle a year later (June 1, 2020). The FCC’s schedule for radio license renewals can be found here and here. For TV stations, the schedule of renewal filings by state is in the same – just one year later than for radio. Every eight years, broadcast stations have to seek the renewal of their licenses by the FCC by demonstrating their continuing qualifications to be a licensee, including showing that they have not had a history of FCC violations and that they have otherwise served the public interest.

We have already written several times about how, with all broadcasters – both radio and TV – now required to have an online public file, it is important for stations to make sure that those files are complete and are kept up to date on a regular basis (see our articles here, here and here). Given that the contents of the online public file can be viewed by anyone, anywhere, just by launching an Internet browser, we would expect more complaints about incomplete files, and more scrutiny by the FCC of the contents of files that rarely were subject to FCC review in the past. FCC staffers can review public file compliance from their offices or homes, and do not have to rely on the rare field inspection to discover a violation. Thus, stations should be reviewing the contents of their files now to be sure that they are ready for the scrutiny that they will receive in the upcoming renewal cycle. But that is not the only issue about which stations need to be concerned, as illustrated by a decision released by the FCC yesterday, deciding to hold an evidentiary hearing as to whether the license renewal of a broadcast station that had been silent much of the last license renewal term should be granted.
Continue Reading License Renewal Cycle Starts in a Year – Crackdown on Silent Stations and Online Public File Signal Warnings to Broadcasters

The FCC announced an extension of the comment filing deadline in its proceeding looking at the Future of the Media (see our summary here). At the same time, the Steven Waldman, the Special Assistant to Chairman Genachowski, made a public appearance at the FCC’s open meeting last week to explain what is intended by this study – and from his comments and those of the Commissioners, this will be a wide-ranging investigation looking at how FCC and other government regulations can insure diversity in the media so that citizens and communities can "get the information that they need."  In Commissioner Copps comments, this includes looking at what public interest obligations are appropriate for the new digital media.  Comments in this proceeding, which were to be filed in March, are now to be submitted by May 7, 2010.

The appearance of Mr. Waldman (whose appointment we wrote about here) came at the very end of a long Commission open meeting where extensive discussions were held on reforming the FCC’s internal decision-making processes and about the broadband deployment report which has consumed the FCC for many months, and which will be delivered to Congress in the next few weeks.  But, while short, the discussion with Mr. Waldman was interesting as he highlighted the plans for his task force.  He opened his comments by initially noting how this was a time of great change in the media, where there is "incredible diversity" brought forth by the new technologies, but that there was also a "collapse" of traditional business models, which could bring about the end of "accountability journalism" (presumably journalism from reputable journalistic sources with some degree of accountability and reliability).  Because of these perceived changes, according to the comments made at the meeting, this task force was established to determine what the government can do to make sure that communities get the information that they need.


Continue Reading FCC Extends Time For Comments on the Future of the Media – Looking at the Public’s Interest in Quality Journalism in All Media