FCC Seeks Feedback on Public Inspection File Forms

WASHINGTON: The Federal Communications Commission is seeking comments on its intent to move TV station public-inspection files to the web. Specifically, the commission released a Notice of Inquiry regarding the issues and program lists that TV stations are required to keep in the files, which are now hard copy. The idea is to replace the hard copy files with a standardized online disclosure forms, available to the public on the Internet at a database hosted by the FCC.

“Our goal is to make it easier for members of the public to learn about how television stations serve their communities, and to make broadcasters more accountable to the public, by requiring stations to provide easily accessible programming information in a standardized format,” the NOI stated.

The NOI follows a recent Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from the commission to move the files online. (See “FCC To Move TV Public Inspection Files Online... Again.”) Its first attempt to do so in 2007 was bounced back by the court because, among other things, petitioners considered the forms “vague, overly complex and burdensome.” The NOI released today seeks “to address many of the shortcomings that have been attributed to the form adopted in the 2007 Enhanced Disclosure Report and Order.”

The 2007 forms included categories for national news, local news, local civic affairs, local electoral affairs, independently produced programming, local programming, public service announcements, paid public service announcements, programming for underserved communities, religious programming, “efforts undertaken to determine the programming needs of the community, service for the disabled and emergency information. They were to be filed quarterly for everything aired during the period.

The commission is now considering quarterly reports based on a one-week sample during the period, and fewer categories. The NOI proposes local civics, local electoral affairs, PSAs, paid PSAs, independently produced, local, underserved and religious. A group called the “Public Interest, Public Airwaves Coalition” has proposed a sample form.

Those categories, the commission said, would not comprise a requirement to run that type of programming. The program form would be limited to TV stations at this point.

The matter is considered so complex, that the commission is dedicating a docket just for comments on the proposed form, Docket No. 00-168. Previous comments will be incorporated. Comments for the NOI released this week will be due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, with replies due 45 days after publication.

~ Deborah D. McAdams, Television Broadcast