February 1 is the deadline by which broadcast stations in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma must place into their Public Inspection files their Annual EEO Public Inspection File Report. The report must also be available on these stations’ websites, if they have such sites. The Annual EEO Public Inspection File Report
The nuts and bolts of legal issues for broadcasters were highlighted in two sessions in which I participated at last week’s joint convention of the Oregon and Washington State Broadcasters Associations, held in Stephenson, Washington, on the Columbia River that divides the two states. Initially, I conducted a seminar for broadcasters providing a refresher on their…
February 1st marks the deadline for two FCC EEO requirements. First, by February 1st, radio and television stations located in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Oklahoma must prepare their Annual EEO Public File Reports. Specifically, stations or Station Employment Units (SEUs) in those states with five or more full time…
On September 10, 2009, David Oxenford addressed the Christian Music Broadcasters’ Momentum ’09 Conference in Orlando, Florida. Dave’ s presentation was titled 18 Issues in 18 Minutes: What a Broadcaster Should Worry About From Washington DC. In 18 minutes, Dave discussed topics including the FCC’s proposed localism rules, sponsorship identification and noncommercial underwriting issues, contest fines, FCC technical…
For the first time since the term of FCC Commissioner Tate expired and Chairman Martin resigned, the FCC will be back to full strength with the Senate’s approval of new FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Meredith Attwell Baker. What issues of importance to broadcasters will the Commission, now headed by Chairman Julius Genachowski, take up in coming months? The new Chairman, who gave a number of interviews last week with the trade and popular press, emphasized the importance of the broadband rollout. Beyond that, his priorities for the broadcast media were not detailed. He did, however, emphasize, that any broadcast regulation (specifically referencing the mandatory review of the broadcast ownership rules that must begin next year), would have to take into account the realities of the marketplace – including the current economic conditions.
Beyond that, there were few clues as to the new FCC’s priorities in the broadcast world. But, even though there are no indications of the FCC’s priorities, there are many open broadcast issues that the Commission will, sooner or later, need to resolve. Some involve fundamental questions of priorities – trying to decide which user of the spectrum should be preferred over others. Other issues deal with questions of what kind of public service obligations broadcasters will face. And yet another set of issues deal with just the nitty gritty technical issues with which the FCC is often faced. Let’s look at some of these open issues that may affect the broadcast industry.
A story in today’s Wall Street Journal discusses the significant amount of money being spent on television advertising for and against pending proposals for health care reform. As we have written before, broadcasters are required to keep in their public file information about advertising dealing with Federal issues – records as detailed as those kept for political candidates. Information in the file should include not only the sponsor of the ad, but also when the spots are scheduled to run (and, after the fact, when they did in fact run), the class of time purchased, and the price paid for the advertising. Clearly, the health care issue is a Federal issue, as it is being considered by the US Congress in Washington. So remember to keep your public file up to date with this required information.
Section 315 of the Communications Act deals with these issues, stating that these records must be kept for any request to purchase time on a "political matter of national importance", which is defined as any matter relating to a candidate or Federal election or "a national legislative issue of public importance." Clearly, health care would fit in that definition. The specific information to be kept in the file includes:
- If the request to purchase time is accepted or rejected
- Dates on which the ad is run
- The rates charged by the station
- Class of time purchased
- The issue to which the ad refers
- The name of the purchaser of the advertising time including:
- The name, address and phone number of a contact person
- A list of the chief executive officers or members of the executive committee or board of directors of the sponsoring organization.
In three cases released last week, the FCC made clear that its EEO rules, requiring wide dissemination of information about job opportunities at broadcast stations (and cable systems), are not satisfied by solely posting of information about openings on websites. Instead, the Commission required that additional outreach efforts be undertaken in order to assure that the notice of the job opening reaches all groups within a community. The decisions pointed to the FCC’s 2003 Report and Order adopting the current rules which stated that the FCC did not feel that the Internet was sufficiently ubiquitous that they could feel comfortable with on-line postings being sufficient to reach all groups within a community. In the recent decisions, the FCC staff said that they were not ready to change the determination of the 2003 Commission.
What does this mean on a practical level? The decisions hold that simply using internal station sources plus on-line postings (in one case website postings plus some combination of walk-ins, industry referrals, and internal postings; in another case the use of the station’s website, plus employee referrals) were insufficient to assure wide dissemination. To avoid getting caught in this trap, broadcasters must use some other traditional outreach services (e.g. employment agencies, community groups, educational institutions, and the local newspapers) to assure that they meet the Commission’s wide dissemination requirements.
The MusicFirst coalition last week asked that the FCC investigate broadcast stations that allegedly cut back on playing the music of artists who back a broadcast performance royalty, and also those stations who have run spots on the air opposing the performance royalty without giving the supporters of the royalty an opportunity to respond. While the NAB and many other observers have suggested that the filing is simply wrong on its facts, pointing for instance to the current chart-topping position of the Black Eyed Peas whose lead singer has been a vocal supporter of the royalty, it seems to me that there is an even more fundamental issue at stake here – the First Amendment rights of broadcasters. What the petition is really saying is that the government should impose a requirement on broadcasters that they not speak out on an issue of fundamental importance to their industry. The petition seems to argue that the rights of performers (and record labels) to seek money from broadcasters is of such importance that the First Amendment rights of broadcasters to speak out against that royalty should be abridged.
While the MusicFirst petition claims that it neither seeks to abridge the First Amendment rights of broadcasters nor to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, it is hard credit that claim. After all, the petition goes directly to the heart of the broadcasters ability to speak out on the topic, and seems to want to mandate that broadcasters present the opposing side of the issue, the very purpose of the Fairness Doctrine. As we’ve written, the Fairness Doctrine was abolished as an unconstitutional abridgment on the broadcaster’s First Amendment rights 20 years ago. As an outgrowth of this decision, FCC and Court decisions concluded that broadcasters have the right to editorialize on controversial issues, free of any obligation to present opposing viewpoints. What is it that makes this case different?
In recent months, SESAC has been writing letters to broadcasters who are streaming their signals on the Internet, asking for royalties for the performance of SESAC music on their websites. More than one broadcaster has asked me why they have any obligation to SESAC when they are already paying SoundExchange for the music that they stream. In fact, SoundExchange and SESAC are paid for different rights, and thus the payments to SoundExchange have no impact on the obligations that are owed to SESAC. SESAC, along with ASCAP and BMI, represent the composers of music in collecting royalties for the public performance of their compositions. SoundExchange, on the other hand, represents the performers of the music (and the copyright holders in those performances – usually the record companies). In the online digital world, the SoundExchange fees cover the public performance of these recordings by particular performers (referred to as "sound recordings"). For an Internet radio company, or the online stream of a terrestrial radio station, payments must be made for both the composition and the sound recording.
To illustrate the difference between the two rights, let’s look at an example. On a CD released a few years ago, singer Madeleine Peyroux did a cover version of the Bob Dylan song "You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go." For that song, the public performance of the composition (i.e. Dylan’s words and music) is licensed through SESAC. The actual "sound recording" of Peyroux’s version of the song would be licensed through SoundExchange, with the royalties being split between Peyroux and her record label (with backing singers and musicians receiving a small share of the SoundExchange royalty).
This past week, I attended the BIAfn Winning Media Strategies Conference in Washington, DC. During the course of the conference, there was much talk about how broadcasters and publishers need to provide unique service to their communities in order to survive in the competitive media marketplace. The point was made over and over again that, in each market there are unique attributes and personalities that a station should be covering in its programming, and should be exploiting even more broadly through their digital assets, to tie it to its community. Only by doing so will the station be able to survive in the new media environment – and by doing so, the station may be able to thrive. In fact, I was stuck by a statement by USC’s Adam Clayton Powell III that domination of the local online and digital media marketplace was "the broadcasters to lose." In other words, the broadcaster has such unque promotional abilities with its current audience that it can establish its brand in the online and in the mobile world far easier than other media players. But there were also the repeated warning that there is more and more competition for this local digital market from new entrants and other media entities and that, if the broadcasters did not take advantage of their current advantage, the local service would come from someone else. What most stuck me was that there was no question that the superservice to local needs would be coming from someone – broadcaster or not – as a result of marketplace developments, not because of any government mandate. The broadcaster has to adapt to and compete in this new media marketplace or become culturally and economically irrelevant. The broadcaster needs to serve the local market to meet these challenges, not because some Washington agency has ordered him to do so. And the broadcaster needs to serve his community in a way that the public will find compelling, not in a way that the government thinks is best.
At BIAfn, the presentation that made the greatest impact was probably that of Greenspun Media from Las Vegas, which has reinvented a secondary newspaper and a Low Power TV station as an on-line powerhouse, uncovering the aspects of the community that would draw the largest audience and covering that information in great detail. The Las Vegas Sun site not only covers hard news, but also the gaming industry, University of Las Vegas sports and even state government issues in a way that its audience seems to find interesting. Even a history of Las Vegas, in great detail, is included. And video plays a big part of the site, with the company in development of a hip news and events program, 702.tv, that will soon be a daily program on the television station and online (featuring local "celebrities" doing the weather, including strippers and Neil Diamond sound-alikes). While some attendees at the conference thought that Las Vegas presented unique opportunities that might not be available in all communities, many were immediately speculating on the opportunities in their own communities to find unique personalities and events that could be developed on-air and on-line in ways to maximize their connection with their audience.