This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters: November 21, 2020 to November 27, 2020

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

  • The FCC is seeking comment on proposed sponsorship identification requirements for broadcast programming that is paid for, or provided by, foreign governments or their representatives. The proposed rules set out specific disclosure obligations to inform audiences of a foreign government’s influence over the programming to which they are listening or viewing.  Comments are due by December 24, 2020 and reply comments are due by January 25, 2021.  (Federal Register)
  • Parties have until December 24, 2020 to weigh in on a proposal by the NAB to clarify who is legally responsible for the programming on a subchannel of one TV station when that programming is a simulcast of another station’s programming. This would include when that subchannel is acting as the required ATSC 1.0 “lighthouse” signal for the primary video stream of a station that has converted to ATSC 3.0 (Next Gen TV) operations.  The NAB suggests that the originating station, rather than the host station, should be liable for public service, political broadcasting, public file and other legal obligations that arise from that programming.  Reply comments are due by January 25, 2021.  We wrote about this proposal in more detail, here. (FCC Public Notice)
  • A Baltimore television station is looking at a $20,000 proposed fine from the FCC for violations of the limits on commercials in children’s programming. The station, in its license renewal application, disclosed it aired a commercial for the “Hot Wheels Super Ultimate Garage” eleven times during the “Team Hot Wheels” children’s program.  FCC policies treat the entire program as a commercial when ads featuring characters from the program are aired during the program, deeming it a “program-length commercial.”  Thus, the station will be deemed to have far exceeded the limits on commercial time in children’s programs.  The Video Division noted “that, in the context of the cognitive abilities of young children, airing a commercial for a ‘Hot Wheels Super Ultimate Garage’ play set during the ‘Team Hot Wheels’ program presents the clear risk for confusion between ‘program content’ and ‘commercial matter’ that the commercial limits rule was designed to avoid.”  See our blog post for more details.  (WUTB(TV) Notice of Apparent Liability)
  • The oral argument date in the FCC v. Prometheus Radio Project was set for January 19, 2021. This case is the Supreme Court’s review of the 2019 decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals which overtured the FCC’s 2017 change in the broadcast ownership rules (including the abolition of the broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership rules and the rule requiring eight independent operators before common ownership or joint programming of two TV stations in a market is permitted).  See our post, here, about the case.
  • The FCC denied an Application for Review refusing to overturn a decision by its Media Bureau dismissing an application for a new FM translator filed by a Los Angeles area AM station. The dismissal occurred before the FCC’s new translator interference rules were adopted, and this week’s decision rejected arguments that the dismissal request should have been put on hold until those rules were adopted and took effect.  This case discusses the difference in the old and new standards (and the differences in processing objections to applications that are predicted to cause interference versus objections to actual interference that arise after a translator begins operations) and shows that the FCC will not revisit cases decided under the old translator interference rules, even if the new rules would have led to a different decision. (KGBN Translator Opinion and Order)

Looking ahead to next week, new rules for audio-described programming, adopted in October, are set to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, which will start the clock on the rules taking effect.  If the publication happens as planned, then the new rules will become effective on December 30.  TV stations in DMAs 61-70 that are required to provide audio-described programming should be ready to begin complying on January 1, 2021.  We took a closer look at this proceeding, here.

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog