On January 24, 2008, the Commission finally released the Report & Order (R&O) containing the standardized and enhanced disclosure requirements which it had decided to impose on the television broadcast industry last November.  In our November Memo to Clients we described the FCC’s action based on the public notice issued by the Commission then. The release of the R&O provides us with the detailed nitty-gritty of what the FCC is imposing on the industry.  Among the new burdens are a new quarterly programming report and significantly greater public inspection file obligations.

Among the new public inspection file requirements are the following:

  • Stations with websites must post their public inspection files on their websites or on the website of their State Broadcast Association.
  • Stations must give notice twice daily (including at least once between 6 p.m. and midnight) that the station’s public inspection file is available for inspection at the station’s main studio and on its website.
  • While political files are not required to be posted, emails from the public are, and documents available on the Commission’s site but not posted on the station’s site must be linked to the station’s site.  Stations must also retain hard copies of all letters and emails from the public in their public inspection files.
  • Stations must make the public inspection file portion of their websites accessible to the disabled, requiring compliance with specific Web Content Accessibility guidelines

Among the new reporting requirements are the following:

  • The current issues/programs lists required by TV licensees will be replaced by the all-new FCC Form 355 (available at Pg. 31 of the attached Report & Order), which will have to be filed with the Commission (electronically) each quarter on the 30th day of the succeeding calendar quarter – that is, the reports will have to be filed by April 30, July 30, October 30, and January 30 of each year.
  • In the quarterly reports, which cover not only the main broadcast channel but also all additional programming stream(s), each TV licensee is required to describe its programming in a laundry list of categories including national news, local news, local civic affairs, local electoral affairs, local programming, public service announcements, paid public service announcements, underserved communities programming, religious programming and independent produced programming.
  • Broadcasters must report information on closed captioning (including which programs were not closed captioned due to exemptions and the basis for each exemption), voluntary video description efforts, efforts to make emergency information available and access of the information to the disabled.
  • Broadcasters must certify that they have undertaken ascertainment efforts to assess the needs of their community, and must specify whether they have designed programming to address those needs.  The new rules do not mandate specific ascertainment efforts, although the new Form 355 does require the reporting licensee to describe (a) any ascertainment efforts it did take and (b) any programming designed to address any needs identified through such efforts.

The new rules will not go into effect until 60 days after notice of their approval by the Office of Management and Budget is published in the Federal Register.  Stations with existent websites must have their public inspection files posted online at that time.  Any websites later created must comply with the rules within 30 days after the sites are made available to the public.

We will have more on the new rules and potential challenges to their validity in the next edition of Memorandum to Clients.  In the meantime, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact your FHH attorney.