The commission is proposing a new enhanced disclosure form (Form 355) for television stations. The 2007 version of this form, which was never implemented, required detailed quarterly reporting of all TV programming in multiple categories such as national news, local news, local civic affairs, local electoral affairs, local programming, public service announcements and several others. Additional information about such things as closed captioning, video description and emergency advisories was also required.
Program categories revised
The commission, which now acknowledges that the 2007 Form 355 was overly burdensome, proposes to reduce program reporting to three categories: (1) local news, (2) local civic/governmental affairs and (3) local electoral affairs, using the following definitions:
- Local news: Locally produced programming that reports on issues about, or pertaining to, a licensee's local community of license.
- Local civic/governmental affairs: Coverage of government meetings, legislative sessions, conferences featuring elected officials, substantive discussions of civic issues of interest to local communities or groups, and interviews with or statements by governmental officials and policy experts on issues of importance to the community.
- Local electoral affairs: Candidate-centered discourse focusing on the local, state and federal races for offices to be elected by a constituency within the licensee's broadcast area. Local electoral affairs programming includes broadcasts of candidate debates, interviews or statements, as well as substantive discussions of ballot measures that will be put before the voters in a forthcoming election.
Format of reports
The commission does not propose a specific form for the report. Instead, it refers broadcasters to a proposed form posted on the website of the Public Interest Coalition (PIPAC), which has been advocating for these reporting requirements. The FCC contemplates that Form 355 information ultimately would be submitted in some machine-readable format that would facilitate computer analysis.
Forms 355 would be filed quarterly and would cover two “composite weeks” from each quarter. The commission would select the component days of each composite week, and then broadcasters would have to use available station records for those dates to prepare their reports.
As to the specific reportable information, the NOI suggests that licensees would have to include a program classification (e.g., local news), title or topic, airdate and time, channel (primary or multicast), whether the programming is first-run, and the length of the segment without commercials.
The FCC wants broadcasters to identify any programming described in the Form 355 that was subject to sponsorship identification requirements and, if so, who sponsored the programming. Broadcasters also would be required to disclose whether any of the reported programming was produced under a shared-services agreement, local marketing agreement, news-sharing agreement, or any other arrangement with another broadcaster or a local newspaper.
The commission believes that a standardized disclosure form will help enable members of the public to be more involved in ensuring that stations address their needs. In particular, the commission believes that the lack of consistency between various stations' issues/programs lists makes “assessment and comparison” between broadcasters difficult. But the real goal appears to be creation of a commission-maintained database of programming available for slicing, dicing and second-guessing both by the FCC's staff and in the private sector, who could “assess” and “compare” broadcasters' public interest performance.
- On or before Feb. 1, 2012, noncommercial TV and Class A stations in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma must file their biennial ownership reports.
- Television stations in D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia must begin their renewal pre-filing announcements on April 1, 2012.
- By Feb. 1, 2012, TV and Class A TV stations in the following locations must place their 2012 EEO reports in their public files and post them on their websites: Arkansas, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, New Jersey and New York.
Harry C. Martin is a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth, PLC.
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