Last September we reported that FCC staffers were apparently sitting in the comfort of their cubicles in the Portals, checking out station websites to determine whether stations had posted their Form 397 EEO “Broadcast Mid-Term Report” on-line. After we did some checking, though, we updated that report to advise that, contrary to what had been told to us by a staffer, Form 397 is not required to be posted on the station’s website (although a copy is required to be placed in the station’s local public inspection file). This was confirmed by a supervisory FCC official, so we’re reasonably sure that it’s correct.
What, then, do we make of an email received from an FCC staffmember on January 30, 2009, with the subject line reading “Mid-Term Report (FCC Form 397)/[licensee name omitted here for obvious reasons]” and the content of which read, in its entirety, “A review of the above-noted stations’ website shows that the 2007 public file report is still posted. Please ask the licensee to upload the 2008 report by February 3, 2009.”
The body of the email seems to refer to an annual public file report, as opposed to the mid-term (i.e., quadrennial) Form 397, but the subject line expressly refers to Form 397. We suspect that that latter reference is simply an error (although, in view of the very clear information we got from a senior Commission official last October, we’re not sure how that error could have crept back into the staff’s psyche). But you never can tell.
By far the more ominous message here, though, is that the staff does appear still to be surfing around various broadcaster websites, checking for compliance. Stations with websites should keep that in mind. They should also keep in mind that the Commission’s rules currently specify only two types of “public file” documents that must be included on a station’s website (assuming, of course, that the station has elected to have a website in the first place): the licensee’s annual EEO report (see Section 73.2080(c)(6)) and DTV Consumer Education Reports (FCC Form 388). Back in November, 2007, the Commission technically adopted a requirement that TV licensees place, in effect, their compete public files on their websites, but that requirement has not yet become effective.
Big Brother may be watching you.