This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters:  March 19, 2022 to March 25, 2022

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

  • The FCC Enforcement Bureau this week announced its latest round of random EEO audits. More than 250 radio and TV stations were randomly selected for an audit of their EEO performance.  These stations have until May 5, 2022 to prepare and upload their responses to their online public files.  The response from stations with five or more full-time employees in their station employment unit (commonly owned stations serving the same area) must include copies of their last two annual EEO Public File Reports, documentation of their recruitment efforts to fill full-time positions, and documentation to back up their non-vacancy specific recruitment initiatives.  Station employment units with fewer than five full-time employees are generally exempt from EEO recordkeeping and can respond to the audit with an upload that confirms their status by listing the unit’s full-time employees by job title and number of hours worked per week.  See our post on the Broadcast Law Blog for more information, and read the audit letter setting out all the requirements for the audit response and the list of audited stations, here.
  • The FCC announced that one of its Administrative Law Judges will hold a hearing to determine if a Tennessee AM station’s license should be revoked after the sole principal of the licensee, a former state senator, was convicted in 2016 of fraud for making false statements in his federal tax return. The FCC’s Character Qualifications Policy Statement sets out criteria to determine if non-broadcast misconduct is serious enough to warrant a penalty including the possible loss of the broadcast license.  A felony conviction involving lying to another government agency will normally trigger such a review.  The FCC suggested that the criminal violation for not being truthful to another government agency might be more serious in this instance as that conviction was not reported timely (a broadcast licensee must report to the FCC a felony conviction of any of its principals by the next anniversary date of the filing of the station’s license renewal application – the licensee’s notice here came a few weeks late) and because other required station documents were not timely uploaded to the station’s public file.  (Hearing Designation Order)
  • The FCC denied an appeal of a Media Bureau decision rejecting an objection to a proposed assignment of a broadcast station. The objector argued that they had a contractual right to acquire the station, and that the sale of the station would not be in the public interest because the petitioner would be a better licensee as it was controlled by minorities not well represented in station ownership in the market where the station operated.  The FCC denied the objection as there was no local court adjudication of the claims of the third-party to its rights to acquire the station (in fact, allegedly, no claim had even been filed in local courts).  The FCC itself will not routinely assess contract claims, leaving those determinations to state courts.  The FCC also denied claims that the petitioner would be a better licensee than the actual buyer, as the Communications Act forbids the FCC rejecting a proposed sale where the buyer is otherwise qualified to own a station just because there might be some allegedly better buyer.  The FCC also did not find any evidence of actual discrimination in the sale to the proposed buyer. (Order)
  • The FCC released its second order resolving conflicts between groups of mutually exclusive applications filed during last year’s filing window for new noncommercial FM stations in the reserved band. 19 groups of mutually exclusive applications were resolved, again based on a determination that the winning applicant was preferred because of its greater service to areas where there were few other noncommercial stations (Order). Read more about the mutually exclusive noncommercial applications resolved in the first group and the standards used by the FCC in making these determinations in our post on the Broadcast Law Blog.
  • In response to a recent NPR article that suggested that advertisers could lie in political advertisements, we posted on the Broadcast Law Blog an article that looks at the restrictions on a broadcast licensee censoring the political message of a candidate. However, those same restrictions do not apply to ads from a non-candidate group – meaning that stations must assess the truth of ads from PACs, political parties and similar organizations, particularly when the truth of those ads is challenged, as station can have liability if the ads are found to be defamatory. (Broadcast Law Blog)

Looking ahead to next week, March 31 is the deadline for commercial radio stations that have not already signed a music licensing agreement with Global Music Rights (GMR) to either sign the agreement offered as part of GMR’s settlement of its litigation with the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC), negotiate a different deal with GMR, or to make sure that they are not playing any music in the company’s catalog.  Continuing to play GMR music without a license risks a copyright infringement action and significant liability.  Read more about the GMR license agreement, here.

For television operators, 6 pm Eastern on March 30 is the deadline for filing short-form applications to participate in Auction 112, an upcoming auction of 27 construction permits for new full-power TV stations.  Read the auction procedures and see the list of available construction permits, here.

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog