FCC Proposes New Disclosure Requirements for Foreign Content

FCC seal
(Image credit: FCC)

WASHINGTON—The FCC is moving forward with a new proposal that would update the disclosure requirements for content that is paid for by a foreign government, and is now seeking comments on the issue.

Following a proposal by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in September, the FCC unanimously adopted the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would establish new requirements for foreign-sponsored programming on TV and radio. Altering section 73.1212 of the commission’s rules, the proposal requires a specific disclosure at the time of broadcast if a foreign government entity has paid, directly or indirectly, to air material, or if the programming was provided for free as an inducement to broadcast the material.

As to what would fall under this new requirement, the FCC laid out five examples. 1) a “government of a foreign country” as defined by the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA); 2) a “foreign political party” as defined by FARA; 3) an entity or individual registered as and acting as an “agent of a foreign principal” under FARA; 4) an entity designated as a “foreign mission” under the Foreign Missions Act; or 5) any entity meeting the definition of a “U.S.-based foreign media outlet.”

The FCC would also provide standardized disclosure language for stations to use in such instances to specifically identify the foreign government involved: “The [following/preceding] programming was paid for, or furnished, either in whole or in part, by [name of foreign government entity] on behalf of [name of foreign country].” 

The disclosure must occur at the time of broadcast—at the beginning and end—and be displayed in letters equal to or greater than 4% of the vertical picture height and visible for not less than four seconds. For programming longer than an hour, it must appear at least once per hour.

The FCC says that it has not updated its sponsorship identification rules since 1963. “With the passage of nearly 60 years and the growing concerns with foreign government-provided programming, the time is ripe to update our sponsorship identification rules. The instant NPRM seeks to ensure that, consistent with our statutory mandate, foreign government program sponsorship over the airwaves is evident to the American Public,” the NPRM reads.

FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks, the commissions’ Democrats, were the only commissioners to release statements on the NPRM. Both said that dangers of foreign-sponsored government providing misinformation, particular in regards to elections or the overall democratic process, is a chief reason for the need of an updated proposal.

“... [I]t’s mindboggling that the FCC has yet to update its policies under Section 317 to ensure that the public knows when foreign actors who may wish to us harm are paying to access our airwaves and influence our citizens,” said Rosenworcel.

Interested parties can now file comments on the NPRM within 30 days of the NPRM’s publication in the Federal Register (Oct. 26); reply comments are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

The full NPRM is available online