foreign government sponsored programming

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

For the first time since October, we can say that the federal government is funded for the rest of the fiscal year (through the end of September) so we do not expect to have to report on any threats of a government shutdown for many months. With that worry off our plate, we can look at the dates that broadcasters do need to pay attention to in the month of April.

First, we’ll look at the most significant routine filing deadlines coming up in April.  April 1 is the deadline for radio and television station employment units in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas with five or more full-time employees to upload their Annual EEO Public File Report to their stations’ online public inspection files.  A station employment unit is a station or cluster of commonly controlled stations serving the same general geographic area having at least one common employee.  For employment units with five or more full-time employees, the annual report covers hiring and employment outreach activities for the prior year.  A link to the uploaded report must also be included on the home page of each station’s website, if the station has a website.  Be timely getting these reports into your public file, as even a single late report can lead to FCC fines (see our article here about a recent $26,000 fine for a single late EEO report).

The filing of the Annual EEO Public File Reports for radio station employment units in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee with eleven or more full-time employees triggers a Mid-Term EEO Review, where the FCC will analyze the last two Annual Reports for compliance with FCC requirements.  There is no form to file to initiate this review but, when radio stations located in those states with five or more full-time employees are required to upload to their public file their annual EEO Public File Report, they must also indicate in the online public file whether their employment unit has eleven or more full-time employees, using a checkbox now included in the public file’s EEO folder.  This allows the FCC to determine which station groups need a Mid-Term Review.  See our articles here and here on Mid-Term EEO Review reporting requirements for radio stations.Continue Reading April Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – EEO Reports, Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists, LUC Windows, Rulemaking Comments, and More

In October 2022, I noted in an article that many broadcasters were totally confused by the FCC’s rules requiring that they seek certifications as to whether or not a foreign government is behind anyone buying programming time on a broadcast station.  In our 2022 article, we noted that, even though broadcasters did not fully understand the existing rule, the FCC was considering expanding that requirement to require use of a specific form to obtain these certifications from program buyers.  From notices filed with the FCC recently, it appears that there have been several meetings with the Commission and representatives of the broadcasting community about these proposed enhanced certifications, making it appear that the FCC is nearing a decision.  It appears that the new certifications, if adopted, will be very cumbersome, particularly for the unsophisticated program buyers who are likely to be many of the buyers of program time on small market stations.  These buyers are likely to find the certification process somewhat intimidating, and may even be scared off from buying any broadcast programming time as a result.  We thought we should take another look at what is already required and what is now being proposed.

Currently, the certifications that broadcasters must obtain from a program buyer must indicate that the programmer is not a “foreign government entity,” a term that includes any foreign government or foreign-government owned entity, an agent of a foreign government, or someone who has been paid by a foreign government to produce the program.  As we noted (see our articles here and here), the rules requiring these certifications went into effect on March 15, 2022 for any new agreements effective after that date, and September 15, 2022 for obtaining certifications from programmers who were already on the air as of March 15.  They cover not only those who buy program time on a broadcast station, but also those that provide program time free to broadcasters with the understanding that the programming will be aired.  The certifications do not cover programming that the broadcaster buys (either for money or through barter – including by giving the programming supplier advertising time that the programmer can resell in exchange for the programming).  And they are not required for spot advertising buys. Continue Reading FCC Still Reviewing Plan to Expand Broadcasters’ Obligations to Obtain Certifications from All Program Buyers on their Connection to Foreign Governments – What is Being Proposed? 

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

When you have been representing broadcasters in Washington for as long as I have, you see cycles in regulation of the industry.  I was reminded of how long the FCC has been on a deregulatory cycle in reading today’s Washington Post obituary of former Democratic FCC Chair Charlie Ferris, who headed the FCC many decades ago when I interned there and when I later started to work in private practice representing broadcasters.  One line in the Post article in particular stood out – where Ferris was said to have “argued that unless regulations were ‘improving the market,’ they ‘were nothing but a nuisance.’”  Since the administration of Chairman Ferris, the FCC has generally moved forward to implement that philosophy of eliminating unnecessary regulation, with only occasional consideration given to the reinstatement of certain regulations (efforts that were often unsuccessful).  With the spate of recent rulings from the FCC, one questions whether the direction that Chairman Ferris pointed the FCC is now being slowed or reversed at a time when the market may well be crying out for an increase in the speed of that deregulation.

The obituary itself quoted one media observer as suggesting that the deregulatory direction in which Ferris took the FCC might not have been entirely successful, based on a persistent lack of minority ownership of broadcast properties, and “’a shortage of local, professional, accountable reporting’ in many communities.”  But are those failings ones that are attributable to the deregulatory trends of the FCC, or greater marketplace forces that have strained not just broadcasting but all traditional media?  In reading the media headlines in the last few weeks, one can’t help but conclude that the latter is more likely the cause, and that another quote from Chairman Ferris cited in the article has never been more appropriate, as he warned broadcasters: “If you cannot compete with new technologies, you will be overcome by them.”  As we’ve argued in this blog before (see for instance our article here reflecting on the warnings of another former Chairman, Ajit Pai), given the slew of new technologies available to consumers, imposing new rules on a broadcast industry flooded with new competition for audience and revenues simply does not make sense.Continue Reading Just Because the FCC Can Regulate Broadcasting, Should It? 

A new year – and our annual opportunity to pull out the crystal ball and look at the legal issues that will be facing broadcasters in the new year.  We’ve already published our 2024 Broadcasters Calendar and, as we noted before the holidays, it highlights the many lowest unit rate windows for the November election.  With a heavily contested election almost upon us, there may be calls on the FCC to modify regulations affecting political broadcasting or for more monitoring of broadcasters’ online public files, which caused so many issues in recent years (see for instance, our posts here and here).  Even if there are no FCC proceedings that deal with the rules for political broadcasting, the election will be watched by all broadcasters, and all Americans, to see the direction in which the country will head for the next four years.  With that election looming, 2024 may be a very active year in regulation as there traditionally is significant post-election turnover at the FCC no matter which party wins.  With that turnover in mind, we may see Commissioners looking to cement their regulatory legacies in the coming year.

Last year, we noted the number of pending issues at the FCC that had not been resolved because of the partisan deadlock on the Commission while the nomination of Gigi Sohn to fill the one vacant seat was stalled in the Senate.  That deadlock was finally overcome by her withdrawal from consideration and the subsequent nomination and confirmation of Anna Gomez, who was sworn in as a Commissioner in late September.  Since then, the FCC has acted on several long-pending priorities, including the adoption of open internet rules and, for broadcasters, last week’s adoption of an Order resolving the 2018 Quadrennial Review of the local broadcast ownership rules (see our summary of that action here). Continue Reading Gazing into the Crystal Ball at Legal and Policy Issues for Broadcasters in 2024 – Part I: What to Expect From the FCC