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

On Friday, Feb. 19, 2010, two important new closed captioning rules were published in the Federal Register and went into effect. The new rules require immediate attention by video programming distributors — including broadcast television stations — to ensure that they respond promptly to viewer complaints regarding closed captioning issues, and to ensure that they timely file contact information with the FCC by March 22, 2010

As detailed in Davis Wright Tremaine’s November 2008 advisory and subsequent January 2009 advisory update, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a Declaratory Ruling and Order in late 2008 that, among other things, imposed new requirements on video programming distributors with respect to fielding inquiries and complaints about closed captioning.  While the implementation of some aspects of those rules was delayed initially, with Friday’s publication in the Federal Register, two of those are now in effect.  The new rules, and the obligations they impose on video programming distributors, are discussed below. 


Continue Reading Closed Captioning Update: New Complaint Rules Now Effective; Contact Information Due by March 22, 2010

A reminder that by February 1 noncommercial radio stations in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York, and noncommercial television stations in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma must prepare and file electronically a biennial Ownership Report with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) using the current noncommercial FCC Form 323-E.

Please note, this filing date

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

The Commission has announced the next in its series of media ownership workshops, this one to address financial issues facing the media industry.  The workshop, part of the Commission’s 2010 quadrennial review of its ownership rules, will be held on January 12, 2010 at the FCC, and will address, in the FCC’s words:  "the current financial

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. 


Continue Reading On-line Recruitment Not Sufficient EEO Outreach for the FCC

A recent stir was created when a Midwestern television company was reported to have signed a contract with a state government agency, promising to market the agency and its programs throughout the state.  This promotion was to include a segment in the company’s televised news promoting the effects of the work of the agency.  Questions were immediately raised about whether this was prohibited by FCC rules.  But, when the news pieces ran, the company was very careful to state after these segments that they were sponsored by the station and the state agency.  As the FCC has no rules about what can be included in the "news" (and probably could not consistent with the First Amendment), the only real issue was one of sponsorship identification.  As the licensee did here, if the sponsor of the story is identified, making clear to the public who was attempting to persuade them on the issue addressed, there should be no FCC issues.

This is different from the issues that have arisen previously at the FCC, where there have been fines levied against television stations and cable systems for airing programming that was sponsored, but for which no sponsorship identification was provided (see our posts here and here).  This includes the video news release or VNR issues, where the FCC has fined stations for using news actualities provided by groups with a financial interest in the issue that was being addressed, but without identifying the fact that the material was provided by the interested parties.  Where a program addresses a controversial issue of public importance, the disclosure rules are more strict, requiring that the station not only disclose that it received money to air a story – but to also disclose anything that it got from the interested party – including tapes or scripts.


Continue Reading Selling Stories In a Broadcast Station’s News Programs – Remember the Sponsorship Identification

A few weeks ago, we wrote about just how outmoded the FCC’s prohibitions on the cross ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations were in an era when newspapers seem to be going out of business at an alarming rate.   We quoted a DC trade press reporter who had mused that the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule could well