The FCC has announced that the obligation for television broadcast stations to post their public inspection files online will become effective August 2, 2012, absent a stay requested by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which has appealed the rule to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.
Absent a stay, the rule requires full power and Class A television stations to post any NEW public file documents online at an FCC-hosted website as of August 2nd. Those broadcasters will have six months or until February 2, 2013 to post PRE-EXISTING public file documents online.
The political public file, which is the subject of the NAB appeal, will be treated a bit differently. NEW political public file documents must be posted effective August 2 by only the top four network affiliated stations (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) in the top 50 markets. There is no requirement to post pre-existing political file documents online.
All other TV stations (i.e. non-network affiliated stations in the top 50 markets and ALL TV stations outside of the top 50 markets), do not have to post political public file documents online until July 1, 2014.
The FCC, after taking two years off, is looking to finish their field hearings on Localism by scheduling a hearing in Portland, Maine on June 29. This hearing is not one of the six hearings to discuss possible new multiple ownership rules, but instead a continuation of the hearings started by Chairman Powell after public controversy over the 2003 multiple ownership rules. In an ironic twist of fate, this public notice was released on the Friday before the National Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation hosts their Service to America Awards Dinner to honor broadcasters and the public service commitment that they have to their communities. Thus, while the FCC is looking in the hinterlands for evidence of the responsiveness of the broadcast industry to the needs of their listeners, some of the best evidence of that service was on display some 12 blocks from the FCC’s headquarters.
The Localism hearings were part of a larger proceeding begun in response to the controversy after the 2003 multiple ownership rules. When the Democratic Commissioners, Congressional legislators from both parties, and a variety of citizen’s groups from across the political spectrum complained about how the public’s input was not sought before the rules were adopted, the FCC tried to respond to some of those complaints by putting out a Notice of Inquiry on Localism. The proceeding was to assess how well broadcasters were serving their communities, and the Notice asked for public comment on a grab bag of issues including the following:
- whether a broadcaster’s public interest obligations should be quantified (bringing back obligations abolished in the 1980s that required specific amounts of the programming of broadcast stations to be devoted to news and public affairs programming),
- should broadcasters be required to play specific amounts of local music,
- is payola a major issue,
- whether more programming should be devoted to political campaigns,
- whether the voices of minorities were being heard on the airwaves.
- if the FCC should authorize more LPFM stations and take other steps to make airtime available to new entrants