Believe it or not, the date by which all radio stations must have their complete public files online is now less than six months away. Television stations have been dealing with this reality for several years now, as have large stations in large markets for the past couple of years. Now, every radio station, both commercial and noncommercial, must have its complete public file posted on the Commission’s website by March 1, 2018. This posting must include all previously prepared documents still required to be in the public file, with the sole exception of the political file, which may be uploaded on a going-forward basis only.
The obvious big change here is that online posting will make each station’s public inspection file available to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Now, anyone with a little time on their hands can scrutinize both the content of documents in the file and the timeliness of their filing. Television stations have already experienced the more thorough review the FCC staff can do at license renewal time, and the same approach is likely to be applied to both radio and TV stations in the next renewal cycle.
Thus, a station’s quarterly issues/programs lists have taken on a new importance, as they can no longer hide, safely unread, in a paper public file. While the political portion of the public file often attracts attention, particularly among competing candidates, issues/programs lists are less noticed and may even be overlooked at times. Still, those quarterly reports are a required element of the public file, and the FCC staff continues to view them as quite important to demonstrating a record of public service. In fact, the Commission has emphasized that issues/programs lists are the primary means by which a station may establish a sufficient record of serving the public interest to support grant of a license renewal.
Of course, these requirements are nothing new. Stations should have been routinely preparing quarterly reports, placing them in the appropriate public file, and retaining there all reports required since the grant of the station’s last license renewal. Still, we have found that some broadcasters could use a little refresher on at least some aspects of the rule related to issues/programs lists. Accordingly, the following is designed to be a primer to cover all the basics you need to know.
Beginning with basic timing, all broadcast stations must place issues/programs lists in their local public inspection file four times a year. The lists must be filed by January 10, April 10, July 10, and October 10, and must cover the issue-oriented programming broadcast by a station during the preceding quarter. Thus, the pertinent three-month periods are: January through March, April through June, July through September and October through December.
Keep in mind that the quarterly list is not merely illustrative, but must include details about programs which have provided a station’s most significant treatment of issues a licensee believes to be of community concern (more on what applies here later). While licensees are not required to maintain comprehensive (i.e., all inclusive) quarterly lists, programs included in the list will be considered a station’s best and most significant issue-responsive programming. Conversely, excluded programs will simply be unknown. It, therefore, makes sense to include as many programs as possible in order to minimize vulnerability to programming challenges.
Let’s walk you through how this process all works. Continue Reading