Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • In the run-up to the August 11 National EAS Test, the FCC released a Public Notice reminding broadcasters to ensure

While the regulatory deadlines in August may be a bit lighter than other months, there are still several important regulatory dates to keep track of, some of which are detailed below.  All broadcasters should have August 11 circled and highlighted on their calendars as the date of the next National EAS Test.  And there are renewal and EEO deadlines, as well as several comment dates on FCC regulatory proposals.

After skipping last year’s annual test due to the pandemic, FEMA and the FCC chose August 11 to hold this year’s National EAS Test.  All broadcasters should work with their engineers and technical staff to make sure their EAS equipment is operating properly and is set to monitoring the stations that they are required to monitor by their state EAS plan.  By the day after the test, August 12, broadcasters must file Form Two in the EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS) portal with “day of test” information.  Then, by September 27, broadcasters must file in ETRS Form Three with detailed post-test data.  The information shared with FEMA and the FCC allows them to determine the successes and failures of the test.
Continue Reading August Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: National EAS Test, License Renewals, EEO Reporting, Political Broadcasting Rules Proposals, Media Ownership Comments, Annual Regulatory Fees, and More

Last week, it was announced that the FCC would be considering some changes to its political broadcasting rules at its monthly open meeting in August.  In some quarters (see, for example, this article), that raised concern that significant changes were coming in time for the 2022 Congressional elections.  But, when the draft of the proposed changes was released last week, it turned out that the changes were instead very minor – almost ministerial.  The proposed rule changes revise the Commission’s rules on two matters that are already part of the practices of stations and the lawyers who advise them on political broadcasting matters.  Two changes are being proposed – one dealing with the showing that needs to be made by a write-in candidate to show that the candidate is “legally qualified” and entitled to take advantage of the FCC’s political broadcasting rules, and the second being just a rule change to conform FCC rules to statutory requirements that broadcasters include, in their online public files, information about the sale of advertising time to non-candidate buyers who convey a message on a matter of national importance, i.e., a federal issue ad.

The first proposal would add use of social media and creation of a campaign website to the factors specified in the rules as factors to consider when determining if a write-in candidate has made a “substantial showing” of a bona fide campaign for office so that they can be considered a “legally qualified candidate.”   Legally qualified candidates, even write-ins who have made this substantial showing, are entitled to all the protections of the Commission’s political rules, including equal opportunities, lowest unit rates and, for candidates for federal office, reasonable access to buy advertising time on commercial broadcast stations.  Looking at the online activities of an alleged candidate has already been part of the evaluation of whether write-in candidates have made a substantial showing of a “bona fide candidacy” – one demonstrating that the write-in candidate was conducting a serious campaign for office entitling them to the protections of the political rules.  Just saying that you are a write-in candidate is not enough to qualify for protections under the FCC rules – a write-in candidate must also show that he or she is really conducting a serious campaign for office (see our article here).  The facts set forth in that showing determine how serious the campaign is.  Since the FCC’s list of activities in its rules is illustrative and not exhaustive, and since online activities are indicative of how serious a candidate is, stations were already reviewing online activities when assessing substantial showings.  The FCC’s proposal would just make sure that what is already being done is spelled out in the rules.
Continue Reading FCC To Clarify Political Advertising Rules – No Significant Changes Proposed

Back in January, we reminded broadcasters that state and local elections, even those held in “off-years” like 2021, still fall within the FCC’s political broadcasting rules.  Virtually all FCC rules, with the exception of reasonable access, apply to candidates for the local school board or town council just as they do for candidates for President – i.e., once you decide to accept an ad for a local candidate, then equal opportunities, lowest unit rates and online public file obligations all apply (see our article here for more information).  But in that article, we did not focus on political issue ads, which also raise their own FCC obligations, particularly with respect to the public file and sponsorship identification.

Unlike candidate ads, or ads dealing with federal issues, ads from non-candidate groups dealing with state and local elections and issues generally do not require price and schedule information to be uploaded to the online political file (unless those ads also mention a federal issue).  However, those ads do require that the public file contain an identification of the sponsor of the ad (address, phone number and contact person should be provided), plus a list of the ad sponsor’s executive officers or the members of its Board of Directors or similar governing board.  Under the FCC’s guidance from 2019 (see our article here), the FCC thinks that most of these organizations will have more than one governing board member, so if you are provided with the name of only one officer or board member, you are required to reach out to the sponsor or their representative and ask if there are others who should be listed.
Continue Reading Reminder: Issue Ads Require Public File Disclosures Even Outside Political Windows

The FCC yesterday released a Public Notice making clear that lowest unit rates (or lowest unit charges) end on Election Day.  Some broadcasters had asked the question, fearful that there would be political advertising bought after Election Day to take positions on issues about counting the vote and other legal matters that could arise

The FCC this week announced consent decrees with six large radio groups over problems with the political files maintained by these groups.  The consent decrees included very specific compliance plans for each company to ensure that it met all FCC political file obligations in the future.  And it suggested that the penalties were mitigated by the current economic conditions caused by the pandemic – but emphasized the importance to the FCC of the political file obligations and suggested that industry associations take steps to educate all broadcasters about their public file obligations when they run political advertising.  Based on these decisions, we thought that we would republish an updated version of an article that we ran two years ago about those political file obligations so that broadcasters can review their own files to ensure that they have in their files the documents that the FCC wants to see.

Our article from two years ago looked at the political file obligations not too long after the FCC required that all of these documents be made available online, as part of the FCC-hosted online public inspection file. The fact that this file can now be viewed by anyone anywhere across the globe has made the required documents much more visible than when they could be reviewed only by physically visiting the main studio of a broadcast station. Not only can these documents be reviewed by the FCC in Washington, DC, but they can be reviewed by candidates, their agencies, and political ad buyers across the country.  In fact, we understand that some political ad buyers have online “bots” that scan these files routinely to keep track of political ad buying across the country.  Plus, with the license renewal cycle ongoing, the FCC reviews the political file as part of their review of a commercial station’s license renewal application (where licensees need to certify as to whether they have kept their public files complete in a timely fashion).
Continue Reading FCC Enters Consent Decrees with Six Big Radio Groups – Looking at What the FCC’s Political File Rules Require

The FCC this week issued an Order reconsidering some of the issues addressed in its October 2019 orders (which we summarized here) interpreting its political advertising rules.  Those October interpretations required that broadcasters who run ads addressing federal issues must include in the political file, maintained as part of their online public file, information about all of the candidates and issues discussed in such ads, not just the most prominent issue or candidate it discusses.  The October ruling also required that stations inquire of issue advertisers (or their agencies) about the names of the chief executive officers or members of their boards of directors if the station is provided with only one name, as the rules require the disclosure of all of the officers or directors of such organizations and the FCC assumes that most of these groups have more than one officer or director.  The October rulings also warned stations against the use of acronyms in their public file where such abbreviations could be misleading to the general public when they view the political file.

The reconsideration addressed two aspects of the October ruling.  First, it made clear that the ruling applied only to federal issue ads, not to ads bought by candidates or their authorized campaign committees.  That seemed to be clear from other statements made by the FCC and its staff (see our article here) but the reconsideration makes it explicit.
Continue Reading FCC Clarifies Its Ruling on Political File Obligations for Federal Issue Ads

Most years, at some point in January, we look into our crystal ball and try to see some of the legal and regulatory issues likely to face broadcasters.  We already provided a calendar of the routine regulatory filings that are due this year (see our Broadcaster’s Regulatory Calendar).  But not on that calendar are the policy issues that will affect the regulatory landscape in the coming year, and into the future.  This year, the biggest issue will no doubt be the November election.  Obviously, broadcasters must deal with the many day-to-day issues that arise in an election year including the rates to be charged political candidates, the access to airtime afforded to those candidates, and the challenges associated with the content of issue advertising that non-candidate groups seek to transmit to the public.  The election in November will also result in a President being inaugurated in just less than a year – which could signal a continuation of the current policies at the FCC or potentially send the Commission in a far different direction.  With the time that the election campaigns will demand from Congress, and its current attention to the impeachment, Congress is unlikely to have time to tackle much broadcast legislation this year.

The broadcast performance royalty is one of those issues likely on hold this year.  While it was recently re-introduced in Congress (see our article here), it is a struggle for any copyright legislation to get through Congress and, in a year like the upcoming one, moving a bill like the controversial performance royalty likely will likely not be high on the priorities of Congressional leaders.  This issue will not go away – it will be back in future Congresses – so broadcasters still need to consider a long-term strategy to deal with the issue (see, for instance, our article here on one such strategy that also helps resolve some of the music royalty issues we mention later in this article).
Continue Reading Looking Ahead to the Rest of 2020 – Potential Legal and Regulatory Issues For the Remainder of the Year

While political broadcasting never seems to be totally off the airwaves, the 2020 election season is about to click into high gear, with the window for lowest unit rates to begin on December 20 for advertising sales in connection with the January Iowa caucuses. That means that when broadcasters sell time to candidates for ads to run in Iowa, they must sell them at the lowest rate that they charge commercial advertisers for the same class of advertising time running during the same time period. For more on issues in computing lowest unit rates, see our articles here, here and here (this last article dealing with the issues of package plans and how to determine the rates applicable to spots in such plans), and our Political Broadcasting Guide, here.

The beginning of the LUR (or LUC for “lowest unit charge”) window in Iowa is but the first of a rapid many political windows that will be opening across the country as the presidential primaries move across the country. These windows open 45 days before the primary election (or caucus, in states where there is a caucus system that is open to the public for the selection of candidates) and 60 days before general elections. For the Presidential election, New Hampshire of course comes next, with their LUR window opening on December 28.   January will bring the opening of a slew of LUR windows for states with primaries and caucuses in late February and early March, including all of the Super Tuesday states. But it is important to remember that these are not the only LUR windows that broadcasters will have to observe in 2020.
Continue Reading Election Season in High Gear for Broadcasters – Lowest Unit Rate Windows to Begin in Iowa This Week, New Hampshire Next and Other States Soon to Follow

The FCC on Friday issued a Public Notice seeking comment on a petition for reconsideration by the NAB and several broadcast groups seeking review of the FCC’s October decision, deemed a “clarification” of the public file disclosure rules for federal political issue ads requiring that all candidates and issues mentioned in any political issue ad be disclosed in the political section of the online public file (see our articles here on the reconsideration filing and here on the FCC’s October decision). The Public Notice sets the deadline for comments on the NAB petition as December 30.

The Public Notice again states that the FCC’s October decision dealt only with issue ads – and not ads from the authorized campaign committees for legally qualified candidates. As we wrote in our article on the reconsideration filing, that was the way I interpreted the FCC decision, based on statements of FCC staff when specifically asked whether the decision applied to candidate ads during the course of a recent webinar that I was moderating, where the staff members cited (and read) footnote 24 in the October decision. That footnote is the one cited in the Public Notice, and states that the October decision applied only to issue ads.
Continue Reading More on Required Public File Disclosures of Issue Ads – Comment Dates on NAB Petition for Reconsideration and Another Admonition for Inadequate Disclosures