third party fundraising by noncommercial stations


At its April meeting, the FCC voted to allow noncommercial stations not affiliated with NPR or CPB to raise funds for third-party nonprofit organizations, even where such fundraising appeals interrupted normal programming, as long as the licensee did not devote more than 1% of its yearly airtime to such appeals. We wrote here

The FCC released the agenda for its April 20th meeting – and it includes three broadcast items.  Two deal with noncommercial broadcasters (undoing the requirement for noncommercial broadcasters to get Social Security Numbers from its board members so that they can acquire an FCC Registration Number for them – see our articles here and here on that issue – and one allowing noncommercial broadcasters to interrupt programming to raise funds for unrelated non-profit organizations).   The third deals with the UHF discount (see our summary of this proposal here).  The third-party fundraising issue has been pending at the FCC for almost 5 years, when the FCC proposed to relax its policy that prohibits noncommercial broadcasters from interrupting normal programming to raise funds for “third-party” nonprofit groups (see our article here on the proposal).  A noncommercial station can raise funds for nonprofit groups during normal program breaks in PSAs or other similar brief announcements, but under current policy, they cannot conduct a telethon or radiothon to raise funds for the Red Cross, a local charity, a religious organization or even for the football team or orchestra at a college or university that owns a noncommercial broadcast station.

The FCC yesterday released its proposed order that would change the current policy.  It would allow a noncommercial station to raise funds for another non-profit entity, but only for 1% of its airtime – about 87 hours a year.  However, this relaxation would be limited to noncommercial stations that do not receive CPB funding, as many PBS and NPR stations opposed the change fearing that they would be deluged by requests for funding from local nonprofits (including, for university licensees, from their licensees themselves for non-station related financial needs).  It was feared that such campaigns could undermine the noncommercial service provided by these stations, and could interfere with the station’s own fundraising.
Continue Reading FCC Proposes to Adopt Rules Allowing Fundraising for Third-Party Nonprofit Organizations By Non-CPB Noncommercial Stations

Hurricane Sandy (or "Superstorm Sandy as it now seems to be called) has resulted in an outpouring of support from broadcasters across the nation, looking for ways to raise funds for those that have been affected by the storm and its aftermath. Noncommercial broadcasters who are interested in joining in the fundraising efforts were aided by

The FCC has adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking suggesting, with significant limitations, a liberalization of its rules that prohibit noncommercial broadcasters from raising funds for an entity other than the station itself if the fundraising suspends or alters normal programming of the station. As we’ve written before, the FCC prohibits noncommercial broadcasters from raising funds for charities and other non-profit organizations through telethons or other special programming.  The prohibition has been in place for some time, and was reaffirmed by the FCC’s orders in the early 1980s which established the basic rules that still today govern most noncommercial fundraising and sales activities. 

The prohibition on third-party fundraising reflected the Commission’s concern that educational stations are "licensed to provide a noncommercial broadcast service, not to serve as a fund-raising operation for other entities by broadcasting material that is akin to regular advertising."  Doing too much fundraising for these third parties, in the Commission’s view when the rule was adopted, would distract stations from their principal mission of service to the public.   While the Communications Act was changed in the early 1980s to allow noncommercial broadcasters to accept paid promotional spots for nonprofit groups, the FCC did not change the rule on third-party fundraising that disrupts normal programming.  In the NPRM just adopted, the Commission recites that they still believe the justification for the rule to be true, even though noncommercial stations can now run what is essentially paid advertising for nonprofit organizations, as long as those spots are incorporated into the normal programming of the stations. What the Commission now proposes is a limited degree of liberalization of the third-party fundraising prohibition, subject to many conditions set forth below.


Continue Reading FCC Proposes to Liberalize Rules Against Noncommercial Stations Fundraising For Third-Party Non-Profit Groups

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

Under FCC policies, stations licensed as noncommercial educational (NCE) stations cannot conduct fundraising for parties other than the station licensee if such fundraising will disrupt the normal program schedule of the station.  So the Jerry Lewis Telethon and similar charitable programming efforts cannot be conducted by noncommercial stations without a waiver from the FCC.  In recent