This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters: June 26, 2021 to July 2, 2021

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC this week reminded television broadcasters of their obligation to make televised emergency information accessible to persons with disabilities. Specific reminders include that emergency information provided visually during any newscast must also be conveyed verbally, and emergency information provided in the audio portion of programming must be provided on screen visually.  In addition, emergency information provided visually (e.g., through crawls) during non-news programming must be provided aurally on a station’s secondary audio program (SAP) channel.  Examples of the types of emergencies covered by the rule include pandemics, extreme weather, discharge of toxic gases, widespread power failures, industrial explosions, civil disorders, and other actionable information arising from such conditions.  (Public Notice)  (Broadcast Law Blog)
  • Though it is mid-way through 2021, the FCC is reopening the comment period in the 2018 Quadrennial Review proceeding on media ownership. It wants to refresh the docket in which initial comments were filed in mid-2019.  The issue in the proceeding likely to have the broadest impact is the consideration of possible changes to the local radio ownership rules.  The FCC seeks, among other information, updates on developments in the marketplace since the initial comments were submitted.  In particular, parties should address the impact of digital competition, including issues of access to and use of broadband, and how it should factor into revisions of the media ownership rules.  We wrote more about the 2018 Quadrennial Review, here.  Comments will be due Monday, August 2, 2021, and reply comments will be due Monday, August 30, 2021.  (Federal Register)(Broadcast Law Blog)
  • June 30 was the effective date of the reinstatement of the 2017 FCC ownership rule changes following their being upheld by the Supreme Court’s Prometheus Radio The Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rule, the Radio/Television Cross-Ownership Rule, and the Television Joint Sales Agreement Attribution policy have been eliminated, as was the rule that required eight independently operated stations in a market to remain after the combination of any two TV stations in that market.  We wrote in depth about the Court’s decision, here.  (Public Notice)
  • With four months remaining in the 2021 election cycle, remember that the FCC’s political broadcasting rules apply even in odd-year elections. Federal candidates (like those running in this year’s special House elections) are entitled to reasonable access and equal opportunities once the candidates become legally qualified.  State and local candidates are not entitled to reasonable access but are entitled to both equal opportunities and lowest unit rates.  See our article here for more on these requirements.  Lowest unit charges apply during the political window that opens on July 16 for the upcoming California gubernatorial recall election to be held on September 14.  The political window opens on September 3 for the November 2 general election.  See our 2020 political broadcasting guide for more information on the political broadcasting rules and answers to common questions.
  • The FCC released the final list of bidders that qualified to participate in Auction 109, the upcoming auction of AM and FM construction permits scheduled to begin on July 27, 2021. Of the 158 applicants, 114 were deemed qualified to bid during the auction.  An upstate New York construction permit that had been offered was removed from the auction.  See the Public Notice for more auction details.  (List of Qualified Bidders)  (List of Disqualified Bidders)
  • A Federal Register notice last week reminds State Emergency Communications Committees that they have one year—by July 1, 2022—to upload to the FCC’s Alert Reporting System their state EAS plan. State EAS plans must describe state and local EAS operations and contain guidelines that must be followed to activate the EAS.  (Federal Register)
  • On the legislative front this week, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced a media shield bill that seeks to protect journalists from having to disclose a source’s identity unless the information is necessary to prevent an act of terrorism against the United States (and to catch the perpetrator of such an act) or to prevent other imminent violence, significant bodily harm, or death. The bill also seeks to shield journalists’ communications from being secretly obtained by the federal government.  Many states have media shield laws in place, but those laws do not reach actions by the federal government.  (PRESS Act)

For more information on upcoming regulatory dates for broadcasters in the rest of July and in early August, see our article here.  And check out the Broadcast Law Blog this week when we will address how dissenting opinions in a recent Supreme Court case could signal a broader debate on the law of defamation, which could impact broadcasters both in their news coverage and in their review of political advertising to be placed on their stations.

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog