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FCC Proposes Program Recording Rules

Remember the days when stations kept recordings of all programming? That meant using slow-moving 24-hour reel-to-reel tapes at some stations, and specific air check units at others. Those days may be here again.

In an effort to beef up its broadcast indecency enforcement efforts, the commission is proposing that stations keep recording of their programming for at least 60 and perhaps up to 90 days.

In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC seeks public comments on how long stations should retain the recordings and exactly when they should be recording: an entire 24 hours; from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. when indecency is prohibited; or from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., the so-called "Safe Harbor" for indecent programming.

The commission believes the change would make it easier for to investigate indecency complaints. It also shifts the burden to provide a tape or transcript from consumers to stations.

"Because the specifics and context of the broadcast are critical to the determination of whether material is obscene, indecent or profane, the more information the commission can have in its possession about a program when it concludes an investigation and decides whether or not to initiate an enforcement proceeding, the more informed a decision it can make," the agency stated in the NPRM.

The FCC said that between 2000 and 2002, it received 14,379 broadcast indecency complaints covering 598 programs. It denied or dismissed 169 complaints for lack of a tape, transcript or significant excerpts. (At NAB2004, Chairman Michael Powell inferred that a substantial number of the filings were from repeat complainers.)

Some stations never stopped keeping recordings of their programming, but others have.
If passed, the change would affect all TV and radio stations, both commercial and non-commercial. Broadcasters are also sure to again raise the issue of including satellite and cable TV in the commission's indecency rules.

The agency has asked for comments specific to how the proposed changes would affect small broadcasters.

Comments to MB Docket 04-232 are due July 30.
- from Radioworld.com