Programming Regulations

July has many FCC obligations for broadcasters, both regularly scheduled and unique to 2013. There are the normal obligations, like the Quarterly Issues Programs lists, that need to be in the public file of all broadcast stations, radio and TV, commercial and noncommercial, by July 10. Quarterly Children’s television reports are also due to

It has been almost a year since the FCC adopted rules for an online public inspection file for television stations. This week, the Commission released a Public Notice requesting comments on how the rules are performing – specifically focusing on the online political file. While the Commission’s rules currently require only that the affiliates of the top four networks, in the Top 50 markets, maintain their political files online, the Commission plans to expand that requirement to all television stations in July 2014. But first, it is asking for comments as to how the rules are working so far, whether changes are needed, and perhaps even whether additional information should be required for inclusion in the online political files of TV stations. Comments are also sought on a Petition for Reconsideration filed by various television broadcasters suggesting a different way of complying with the online political file requirements. 

Specific questions on which comments are requested include the following:

  • Have stations encountered particular obstacles in connection with posting documents to the political file?
  • Has online posting become easier over time as station personnel have become more familiar with the process?
  • Are there other steps the FCC could take to make the database more user-friendly?
  • Are smaller stations prepared to use the online file for their political files starting next year? If not, what needs to be done to help them prepare?

The FCC also asks the public, including political candidates and their representatives, to comment on whether they found it easy to access information in the file, whether improvements could be made, and whether the ability to view the file online has been beneficial.  What have interested groups said about the online political file since it was adopted? 


Continue Reading FCC Seeks Comments on Online Political File for TV Stations – Should Obligations Be Changed or Expanded?

April is one of those months in which many FCC obligations are triggered for broadcasters. There are the normal obligations, like the Quarterly Issues Programs lists, that need to be in the public file of all broadcast stations, radio and TV, commercial and noncommercial, by April 10. Quarterly Children’s television reports are due to be submitted by TV stations. And there are renewal obligations for stations in many states, as well as EEO Public File Reports that are due to be placed in station’s public files and on their websites. The end of March also brings the obligation for television broadcasters to start captioning live and near-live programming that is captioned on air, and then rebroadcast on the Internet. Finally, there are comment deadlines on the FCC’s proposal to relax the foreign ownership limits, and an FM auction and continuing FM translator filing requirements.

Radio stations in Texas and television stations in Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana have renewal applications due on April 1. The license renewal pre-filing broadcast announcements for radio stations in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, and for TV stations in Michigan and Ohio, must begin on April 1. All of these stations will be filing their renewals by June 1. EEO Annual Public file reports for all stations (radio and TV) with five or more full-time employees, which are located in Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Delaware, Pennsylvania or Indiana, must be placed in their public files (which are now online for TV broadcasters) by April 1.   Noncommercial radio stations in Texas, and noncommercial TV stations in Tennessee, Indiana Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky must also file their Biennial Ownership Reports by April 1


Continue Reading April FCC Obligations for Broadcasters – Renewals, EEO, Quarterly Issues Programs Lists, Captioning of Live or Near-Live Online Programming, FM Translator Filings, an FM Auction and Comments on Alien Ownership

Earlier today, we wrote about the FCC’s reminder that TV broadcasters must, by February 4, complete the upload to their FCC-mandated online public inspection file all materials from the current renewal term that were created prior to the August 2 effective date of the online public inspection file requirement.  We noted that the FCC had not addressed the question of stations that had outstanding renewals from the last renewal term – which could potentially mandate that some stations upload as much as 16 years worth of material to their online files.  Well, today, the FCC issued another decision waiving its rules so that stations only need to post Quarterly Issues Programs lists from the current license term on their online public files – subject to some caveats.

There are certain limits on this waiver.  If the limits are not met, then all Quarterly Issues Programs lists, back to the last granted renewal, have to be posted to the online public file.  The limits include the following:

  1. The last renewal cannot have been opposed by a member of the public.
  2. The delay in the renewal cannot have been caused by issues relating to the public interest service of the station to its local service area
  3. The station must continue to keep the Quarterly Issues Programs lists from the last renewal cycle at the station in a paper public file.

This decision does not relieve stations from all obligations to post materials from prior renewal terms, as described below.


Continue Reading FCC Grants Certain TV Stations Limited Waiver from Online Public File Obligations for Documents from Prior Renewal Terms

The six months that the FCC gave to television stations to upload the contents of their paper public files to their new online public file seemed like a long time back in August, when the deadline was announced and the online public file rule became effective. But that deadline is upon us, and the FCC yesterday issued a reminder that television broadcasters (full power and Class A stations) need to have all of their required documents uploaded to their online public file by Monday, February 4.  The 6 month deadline actually falls on the weekend, so the FCC has given stations to the end of the day on Monday to come into compliance. The Commission has even offered to have people at the FCC over the coming weekend to answer questions about the uploading process for all those waiting until the last-minute to comply. 

As made clear in the public notice, no broadcasters need to upload contents of their political files that existed prior to the August 2 effective date of the rules. TV Broadcasters who are affiliates of the Big 4 networks in the Top 50 markets should already be uploading new political file material onto their online files, while other TV broadcasters have until July 1, 2014 before they are subject to the requirement that they upload their new political materials to the online file. In neither case do stations have to upload political file materials that precede the date that the obligation applies to their station. 


Continue Reading FCC Issues Reminder that TV Stations Need to Complete Online Public File By February 4 – Upload Documents Including All Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and EEO Public File Reports Since the Last License Renewal Grant

Every year, about this time, I dust off the crystal ball to offer a look at the year ahead to see what Washington has in store for broadcasters. This year, like many in the recent past, Washington will consider important issues for both radio and TV, as well as issues affecting the growing on-line presence of broadcasters. The FCC, Congress, and other government agencies are never afraid to provide their views on what the industry should be doing but, unlike other members of the broadcasters’ audience, they can force broadcasters to pay attention to their views by way of new laws and regulations. And there is never a shortage of ideas from Washington as to how broadcasters should act. Some of the issues discussed below are perennials, coming back over and over again on my yearly list (often without resolution), while others are unique to this coming year.

Last week, we published a calendar of regulatory deadlines for broadcasters.  This article looks ahead, providing a preview of what other changes might be coming for broadcasters this year – but these are delivered with no guarantees that the issues listed will in fact bubble up to the top of the FCC’s long list of pending items, or that they will be resolved when we predict. But at least this gives you some warning of what might be coming your way this year. Issues unique to radio and TV, and those that could affect the broadcast industry generally, are addressed below.

General Broadcast Issues

 

There are numerous issues before the FCC that affect both radio and television broadcasters, some of which have been pending for many years and are ripe for resolution, while others are raised in proceedings that are just beginning. These include:

 

Multiple Ownership Rules Review: The FCC is very close to resolving its Quadrennial review of its multiple ownership proceeding, officially begun in 2011 with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The rumors were that the FCC was ready to issue an order at the end of 2012 relaxing the rules against the cross-ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers, as well as the radio-television cross-interest prohibitions, while leaving most other rules in place. TV Joint Sales Agreements were also rumored to be part of the FCC’s considerations – perhaps making some or all of these agreements attributable. But even these modest changes in the rules are now on hold, while parties submit comments on the impact of any relaxation of the ownership rules on minority ownership. Still, we would expect that some decision on changes to the ownership rules should be expected at some point this year – probably early in the year. 


Continue Reading Gazing Into the Crystal Ball – What Washington Has In Store For Broadcasters in 2013

Three broadcast items are tentatively scheduled for the next FCC meeting, to be held on April 27, according to the tentative agenda released today.  In one expected action, though perhaps moving more quickly than many thought possible, the FCC has indicated that it will adopt an Order in its proceeding requiring TV broadcasters to place and maintain their public files on the Internet.  A second broadcast item will adopt rules for channel sharing by TV broadcasters as part of the plan for incentive auctions to entice TV broadcasters to give up some of their spectrum for wireless broadband use.  Finally, the FCC proposes to adopt a NPRM on whether to amend current policies so as to permit noncommercial broadcasters from interrupting their regular programming to raise funds for organizations other than the station itself.

The first item is to determine whether to require that the broadcasters maintain an Online Public Inspection File, is a controversial issue about which we wrote last week. The proposal for the online file grew out of the FCC’s Future of Media Report (renamed the Report on the Information Needs of Communities when it was released last year, see our summary here).  In that same report, it was suggested that the FCC relax rules applicable to noncommercial broadcasters that limit their on-air fundraising for third-parties, if that fundraising interrupts the normal course of programming.  The Future of Media Report suggests that this restriction be relaxed so that noncommercial broadcasters be able to do block programming from time to time to raise funds for other noncommercial entities


Continue Reading On the Schedule for the April 27 FCC Meeting: Television Public Interest Obligations, TV Channel Sharing and Third-Party Fundraising by Noncommercial Broadcasters

While rumors are flying that the FCC is rushing to adopt its proposals to require that TV stations put their public inspection files online (see our summary of the proposals here), both the FCC and public interest groups are targeting the public files of television stations – looking to copy some or all of those files.  Rumors are that the FCC inspected the public files of all television stations in at least one city – and asked for copies of the complete files to be produced at the FCC within a day or two, in some cases requiring the copying of several file cabinets worth of material very quickly.  Whether this inspection is a one-shot deal or the start of a program to audit the files of TV stations across the country is unclear.  At the same time, public interest groups have been urging their members to inspect TV station public files across the nation, to copy parts of those files, and to post the information that they collect online.  TV stations across the country need to be prepared for these inspections.

Why these actions now?  Some may think that the FCC is just conducting a random audit, while others may suggest that the demand for complete public files is just a fact-finding mission as part of its rulemaking process.  The more suspicious of broadcasters may think that this represents the FCC sending a message that the online public file is coming, and stations may find it easier to accept the online file rather than facing these demands for the instant reproduction of their entire files to be inspected at leisure in Washington. 


Continue Reading FCC and Public Interest Groups Demand Copies of TV Stations’ Public Inspection Files, As FCC Nears Decision About Requiring That The Complete File Be Posted Online

With April Fool’s Day only a few days away, we need to repeat our annual reminder that broadcasters need to be careful with any on-air pranks, jokes or other jokes prepared especially for the day.  While a little fun is OK, remember that the FCC does have a rule against on-air hoaxes – and, of any day in the year, April 1 is the day that the broadcaster is most at risk.  The FCC’s rule against broadcast hoaxes, Section 73.1217 of the Commission’s Rules, prevents stations from running any information about a "crime or catastrophe" on the air, if the broadcaster (1) knows the information to be false, (2) it is reasonably foreseeable that the broadcast of the material will cause substantial public harm and (3) public harm is in fact caused.  Public harm is defined as "direct and actual damage to property or to the health or safety of the general public, or diversion of law enforcement or other public health and safety authorities from their duties."  Air a program deemed a hoax, and expect to be fined by the FCC.

This rule was adopted in the early 1990s after several incidents that were well-publicized in the broadcast industry, including one case where the on-air personalities at a station claimed that there was someone at the station who had taken them hostage, and another case where a station broadcast bulletins that announced that a local trash dump had exploded like a volcano, and was spewing burning trash around the local neighborhood.  In both cases, first responders were notified about the non-existent emergencies, actually responded to the notices that listeners called in, and were prevented from doing their duties responding to real emergencies.  In light of these sorts of incidents, the FCC adopted its prohibition against broadcast hoaxes.  But, as we’ve reminded broadcasters before, the FCC hoax rule is not the only reason to be wary on April 1. 


Continue Reading April Fools Gags on Air? Play It Safe, and Remember the FCC’s Hoax Rule

Yesterday, the FCC issued fines totaling $52,000 against four Class A television stations for belatedly filing their FCC Form 398 Children’s Television Programming Reports. The stations, each of which had missed at least a couple of years’ worth of Children’s Reports, were also fined for failing to timely place the reports in their public