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.

  • A bill was introduced in the US Senate proposing to prohibit any FCC or criminal action against a broadcaster who

Recently, I’ve received many calls from broadcasters about the FCC public file obligations for issue ads (those ads not bought by legally qualified candidates or their authorized committees) – particularly concerning the different treatment between issue ads dealing with federal candidates or federal matters, and those dealing with state and local matters.  There was much controversy about the public file requirements for federal issue ads over the last two years – resulting in an FCC clarification that we wrote about here and here, making clear that the public file obligation for federal issue ads include the requirement that a station’s public file disclosures include a list of all of the federal candidates and issues mentioned in the ad.  The FCC also imposed an affirmative obligation on the broadcaster to confirm with the federal issue advertiser that it does not have multiple executive officers or directors if the advertiser only provides one individual’s name.  These obligations are in addition to the requirement that stations upload to their public file, within one business day of when an order for a federal issue ad is received, information about the order, including the price to be paid for the ads and the schedule that the buyer is requesting.  Whether or not the order for ads addressing a federal issue is accepted by the station also must be uploaded to the public file.

There are different requirements for state and local issue ads, about which we wrote last year here.  Issue ads that do not deal with federal issues do not trigger any obligation to upload information about the price and schedule of an ad to a station’s online public file.  Nor do state and local issue ads trigger the obligation to list every candidate and issue mentioned in the ad.  But they do still require the public file identification of the sponsor of the ad, and the executive officers or directors of the sponsor when the sponsor is not an individual.  Thus, ads dealing with state and local matters – like state ballot issues, or local zoning controversies, or even ads that attack or support state or local candidates (when those ads are not bought by a candidate-authorized committee and do not address any federal issue) – only require the identification of the ad sponsor and its officers or directors in a document uploaded to the station’s political file.  Why the difference?
Continue Reading Why Federal and State Issue Ads Have Different Broadcast Public File Requirements

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.

  • A list of “ex parte” presentations made to the FCC (disclosures of presentations made to FCC decision makers outside of

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 Senate Commerce Committee announced this week that it will hold a hearing to consider FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel for

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 Federal Trade Commission issued a press release which warns advertisers to avoid misleading endorsements. The FTC also sent a

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

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

According to press reports (see this story in Verge and this one in the Washington Post), Facebook will end its policy of not subjecting posts by elected officials to the same level of scrutiny by its Oversight Board that it applies to other users of its platform.  Facebook’s announced policy has been that the newsworthiness of posts by politicians and elected officials was such that it outweighed Facebook’s uniform application of its Community Standards – though it did make exceptions for calls to violence and questions of election integrity, and where posts linked to other offending content.  Just a year ago, there were calls for Facebook to take more aggressive steps to police misinformation on its platforms. These calls grew out of the debate over the need to revise Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which insulates online platforms from liability for posts by unrelated parties on those platforms (see our article here on Section 230). Last year, we compared Facebook’s policy with the laws that apply to other communications platforms, including broadcasters and cable companies.  In light of the potential change in Facebook’s policy, we thought it would be worth revisiting that analysis now.  Here is what we wrote last year:

[In January 2020], the New York Times ran an article seemingly critical of Facebook for not rejecting ads  from political candidates that contained false statements of fact.  We have already written that this policy of Facebook matches the policy that Congress has imposed on broadcast stations and local cable franchisees who sell time to political candidates – they cannot refuse an ad from a candidate’s authorized campaign committee based on its content – even if it is false or even defamatory (see our posts here and here for more on the FCC’s “no censorship” rule that applies to broadcasting and local cable systems).  As this Times article again raises this issue, we thought that we should again provide a brief recap of the rules that apply to broadcast and local cable political ad sales, and contrast these rules to those that currently apply to online advertising.
Continue Reading Reports that Facebook Will End Policy of Not Censoring Politician’s Posts – How Other Communications Platforms are Regulated on Political Speech

As we highlighted yesterday in our weekly summary of regulatory issues for broadcasters, last week saw a letter from Congresswoman Anna Eshoo to the FCC asking for the FCC to review the enforcement of the rules established by the CALM Act, which prohibits loud commercials on TV stations.  The letter cites news reports of thousands of complaints annually to the FCC since the rule’s adoption in 2012 without there ever having been an enforcement action against a station for any violation.  When the CALM Act was passed by Congress, there were many industry questions about how that law could be enforced, as there are many subjective judgments in assessing whether a commercial is louder than the program into which it is inserted (see our article here).  But, ultimately, the FCC adopted rules that were based on industry standards and most parties seemed to believe that they were workable (see our article here about the adoption of those rules).  Like many FCC rules, the CALM Act rules are complaint-driven, and even the article cited by Congresswoman Eshoo recognized the difficulty in assessing the merits of any complaint.

Nevertheless, with this letter and the publicity that it has received in the broadcast trade press, TV stations should carefully review their compliance with the CALM Act rules, as this publicity could signal that the FCC will turn its attention to this issue in the coming months.  In fact, with a Commission that is currently evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans until the vacant seat on the Commission is filled, enforcement of existing FCC rules may well be one place where the current Commission will turn its attention while more controversial (and potentially partisan) rule changes await FCC action.
Continue Reading Congressional Letter to FCC on CALM Act Violations Puts Focus on FCC Enforcement Issues