Under a proposal released in October, the FCC plans to host on its website all television station public files.
The proposed plan
Licensees would have to compile most of the same materials currently required to be maintained in the public file. But for the first time, the public file would include sponsorship identification information for furnished programming, in addition to agreements about shared services among licensees. All such materials would have to be scanned and submitted to the commission, which would then post them on the FCC's own website.
The online public file would not include correspondence from the public; that would have to be maintained in a correspondence file at the station, available for public review. All political advertising information would have to be submitted to the FCC, however.
Despite the volume of such information and the practical difficulty of keeping up with the flow of political buys in the midst of an election season, the FCC proposes that all political files be uploaded “immediately absent unusual circumstances.”
The commission is proposing to eliminate the need for TV licensees to include a copy of their contour maps in their public files, but they would have to include express identification of their main studio locations. The FCC also proposes to require TV stations to air announcements of the existence, location and accessibility of their online public files at least three times per week as part of their station identifications.
FCC Form 355
In 2007, the FCC proposed that TV licensees be subject to “enhanced disclosure” of their public service programming efforts using a new FCC Form 355. The form, which never went into effect, sought detailed information about a wide range of program categories, e.g., national news, local news, local civic affairs, local electoral affairs, local programming, paid and unpaid PSAs, underserved communities programming, religious programming, and independently produced programming. This initiative was broadly opposed by the television industry.
The proposed changes to the public file rule vacate the 2007 order creating Form 355. But the commission indicates that it is seriously considering an alternate reporting requirement that substantially streamlines and revises Form 355. According to the FCC, the industry can expect to see a notice of inquiry seeking comments on that alternate approach.
Formatting and uploading
As the commission envisions the transition to an FCC-maintained online public file, each licensee would be required to upload into its online FCC file location all materials already in its public file. The commission has delegated to the Media Bureau the task of determining how, when and in what format the contents of several thousand public files are to be uploaded.
Public comments invited
This public file initiative is merely a collection of proposals. The commission takes pains to solicit comments on the wide variety of questions that these proposals raise. A separate section of the notice of rulemaking solicits cost/benefit analyses relative to the various proposals. Television licensees should review the proposals carefully with an eye toward providing the commission as much detailed information as possible, particularly with respect to any burdens the proposed system is likely to impose. It is clear from the text of the proposal that this item was drafted with the preconceived notion that any such burdens would be minimal and easily absorbed.
- 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 Washington, 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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