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FCC rules on network-affiliate contracts

The FCC last week wrapped years of review by issuing a declaratory ruling on contracts between the television networks and their affiliate stations. ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and their affiliate associations asked the commission in June to approve the rules they had worked out amongst themselves.

The rules clarify such matters as when and under what circumstances affiliate stations can pre-empt networking programming, and prohibits networks from demanding future carriage on a station’s digital channels.

“We agree with NASA [the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance] and the networks that additional guidance concerning licensee control, the right-to-reject rule and the option-time rule would be helpful to avoid future disputes, and that the principles identified … are consistent with the act and our rules,” the FCC said.

Under the agreement, the FCC said that affiliates retain ultimate control over programming, operations and critical decisions; and contracts cannot allow the networks to hinder or prevent stations from rejecting programming they feel is “unsatisfactory, unsuitable or contrary to the public interest.”

Networks should not be able to impose any penalties for rejected programming and are prohibited from “optioning” time on stations without having the programming in hand to fill it. This includes being prevented from requiring affiliates “to carry, at some unspecified future date, unspecified digital content that the network may, or many not, choose to offer.”