Commission votes to put TV station public files online; phases in political reporting requirement

On April 27, the FCC adopted a Second Report and Order requiring television broadcasters to begin making their public file available on the Internet via an FCC-hosted online database rather than as a paper file available at their main studios.

The Report and Order replaces existing agency rules that have applied to commercial and non-commercial TV broadcasters for decades.

It lays out specific requirements for broadcasters regarding what must be uploaded to the new database. Broadcasters are now responsible for uploading only those items now required in the public file that are not otherwise filed with the agency or are available on the FCC website. The new rules say the commission will be responsible for importing to the online public file “any document or information now required to be kept in the public file that must already be filed with the Commission electronically in the Consolidated DataBase System (“CDBS”), so that stations do not need to post that information.”

The new rules place no requirement for expanding the scope of what must be filed, such adding a requirement for sponsorship identification or share service agreements. Nor do the rules setup a specific format that must be used for uploaded documents; however, the Report and Order does require stations to upload documents in their existing electronic format or as .pdf files.

The Report and Order also says the FCC will provide “an organized file system” for uploading documents to make the public files orderly, organizationally similar and easier to search.

A key provision of the new rules is that stations will not be required to post the existing “political portion” of their public file. Additionally, the filing requirement for the political portion of the public file will be phased in based on network affiliation and market size. For the next two years, only stations affiliated with the top four national networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX) licensed in the top 50 Designated Market Areas will be required to post the political file portion of their public file to the new database. All other stations are exempt from posting their political file documents to their online public file until July 1, 2014.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and commissioner Mignon Clyburn voted to affirm the entire order. Commissioner Robert McDowell dissented on the portions of the order requiring the political file to be posted online.

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.