FCC orders new reporting requirements for broadcasters

The new mandate requires broadcasters to list local civic programming and public service announcements for public record.

The FCC instituted new record keeping rules that will make it easier for the public to monitor the public service activities of licensed broadcast stations.

Under the FCC order, television broadcasters must file a programming form on a quarterly basis designed to provide the public with easily accessible information in a standardized format on each station’s efforts to serve its community.

The form requires broadcasters to list various types of programming, including local civic programming, local electoral affairs programming, public service announcements and independently produced content.

The report also must include information about efforts that have been made by the broadcaster to ascertain the programming needs of various segments of its community, and information regarding closed captioning and video-described content.

The new form will replace the current issues and programs list, which required broadcasters to place in their public file on a quarterly basis a list of programs that have provided the station’s most significant treatment of community issues during the preceding three-month period. The standardized programming form must be available online and filed with the FCC.

Significantly, the order also requires television licensees to make their public inspection file (with the exception of their political file) available online if they have Internet Web sites and notify their audiences twice daily about the location of the station’s public file.

The commission approved the new rules unanimously with some partial dissents, mainly from commissioner Robert McDowell, who said he is concerned about the negative effect the Web posting requirement will have on smaller television stations.

“Requiring compliance with additional regulations immediately may overly burden the broadcasters without sufficient corresponding benefits to the local citizens served by the station,” McDowell said after the vote.

Commissioner Michael Copps called the new rule “a good step forward” but still nowhere near what’s needed for broadcasters to meet their public service obligations in exchange for the free use of the public’s spectrum.

The rule will, however, empower politically active citizens to become more involved in ensuring a democratic media environment, Copps said.

“If we ever get serious about having an honest-to-goodness licensing and re-licensing regime around here — and I intend to keep pushing hard for that — we will have much better data on which to make those decisions,” Copps said of the new rule.