But paper copies of those lists must still be maintained for public inspection at the station, and the waiver is subject to some limiting conditions

Full-service and Class A TV licensees take heart! The Media Bureau may have let many of you off the hook with respect to one component of the online public inspection file requirement.  In particular, the Bureau has announced that stations whose licenses were not renewed during the previous renewal cycle may opt not to post to the FCC’s online public file system their quarterly issues/programs lists relating to the earlier license terms covered by those filed-but-not-yet-granted renewal applications.

Before you start doing the Snoopy dance, be aware that there are at least three gotchas here.

Some background first. 

As we all know, full-service and Class A TV folks are required to upload their public inspection files to the FCC-maintained online system by February 4. The public file rules (for both commercial and noncommercial licensees) require that those files include quarterly issues/programs lists dating back to the date on which the grant of their last renewal application became final. 

The problem is that the last renewal grant, for many TV licensees, dates back into the 1990s.  That’s because many TV renewal applications from the last renewal cycle still haven’t been granted, in many (if not most) cases thanks presumably to the dreaded “enforcement holds” arising from pending complaints lodged against the station. As a result, in order to comply precisely with the public file rule, a TV licensee whose last renewal is still in deferred status would have to upload an extra eight years’ or so worth of issues/programs lists.

In early December a licensee in that situation (represented by our colleague, Jim Riley) sought a waiver of this requirement. Its last renewal was granted in 1997, and it argued that uploading a raft of issues/programs lists dating from 1997-2005 would be extremely burdensome and would not provide any benefit to the public. That was particularly so because no member of the public had objected to its timely-filed-but-still-not-acted-on 2005 renewal application (which covered the 1997-2005 period). 

The Bureau agreed, noting that its own policy is to “review each renewal application individually, and not in combination with prior pending renewal requests”. Because of that, pre-2005 issues/programs lists would ordinarily be irrelevant – and even possibly confusing to the public, according to the Bureau – if they were to be included in the online public file. (The Bureau didn’t address why such lists might be less confusing in a station’s locally-maintained paper public file.) Accordingly, the Bureau has agreed to a narrow waiver of the uploading requirement for both commercial and noncommercial TV stations.

Specifically, if a station’s most recent license renewal application (filed between 2004-2007) remains pending, that station does not have to upload issues/programs lists from prior pending renewal terms to the FCC’s online system, provided that:

all issues/programs lists covering the prior license term (i.e., the lists that aren’t being uploaded to the online system) are still available to the public in the paper version of the public inspection file maintained at the station itself; and

the station’s most recent license renewal application was not opposed by any member of the public; and

action on the station’s most recent license renewal application was not deferred by the Commission as a result of “enforcement matters” related to “the station’s obligation to air programming responsive to the needs and interests of its community or the recordkeeping related thereto”.

Note that this waiver does not apply to issues/programs lists covering programming aired during the current license term, i.e., the license term which began in 2004-2007 (depending on the state in which the station is located). In other words, your online public file must still include issues/programs lists covering the last eight years or so.