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.

  • The FCC adopted two items of interest to broadcasters that were on the agenda for its January 27 Open Meeting.

The FCC, at its January 27 monthly open meeting, will be voting on the adoption of two relatively minor changes to its political broadcasting rules.  While some press reports suggested that the changes would expand the FCC’s jurisdiction into online political advertising, in fact the draft of the FCC’s Report and Order released last week shows that the two rules at issue deal exclusively with over-the-air political advertising.  Moreover, as we wrote here when the proposals were first advanced for public comment, the changes to be adopted are almost ministerial clean-ups of FCC rules, having little substantive effect on the current political sales practices of most broadcasters.

These two rule changes are likely to be adopted at the end of the month by a 4-member FCC that is still evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.  The first one deals with the showing that needs to be made by a write-in candidate to show that the candidate is “legally qualified” and thus entitled to take advantage of the FCC’s political broadcasting rules. The second change would conform the FCC’s rules to the already existing statutory provisions that require broadcasters to 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.
Continue Reading FCC Plans to Adopt Two Minor Changes to its Political Broadcasting Rules – What is Being Changed?

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.

  • The FCC this week announced that it will vote on two items of interest to broadcasters at its next Open

The deadline for 2022 candidates in Texas to file for a place on the March 1 primary ballot was this past Monday.  Deadlines in other states will follow during the first part of 2022.  As a result, broadcast stations and cable companies in Texas are already dealing with legally qualified candidates, and the FCC political rules that attach to those candidates.  Stations in other states will follow soon.  Even before these deadlines, stations are dealing with buys from potential candidates, PACs, and other third-party groups looking to establish positions for the important 2022 elections. Spending on political advertising is sure to increase as the new year rolls around, and some suggest that it could rival that spent in 2020. What should broadcast stations be thinking about now to get ready for the 2022 elections?

We have written about some of the issues that broadcasters should already be considering in our Political Broadcasting Guide (which we plan to update shortly). Obviously, one of the primary issues is lowest unit rates, which become effective 45 days before the primaries (or before any caucus which is open to members of the general public). In Texas, those rates will begin in mid-January for the March 1 primary, and lowest unit charge (“LUC”) windows will open in other states throughout the first part of 2022.  With these rate windows soon to be upon us, stations should begin the process of determining what rates will apply during the window, as stations are no doubt now writing packages with spots that will be running during the window.  In addition to our Political Broadcasting Guide, we wrote about other issues you should be considering in determining your lowest unit rates here.  These articles provide just an outline of issues to consider in determining the rates that will apply in the window, so start conversations now with your attorney and political advertising advisors to make sure that these rates are being determined accurately and in compliance with FCC rules and policies.
Continue Reading Candidate Filing Deadline for the Primaries in the Texas 2022 Elections Just Passed – What Should Your Station, No Matter Where It Is, Be Doing to Prepare for the Coming Election Advertising Deluge?

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