Editor’s Note: The Sacramento Media Group held a discussion at Access Sacramento this past week. We questioned, “How can concerned local citizens impact the decision making of local television and radio station management particularly if local coverage seems biased or skewed in favor of a particular point of view?” For several years, SMG has focused upon TV station coverage during political campaigns and has reviewed the public files of local stations. Here is an update on disclosure obligations for television management from the Federal Communications Commission as reported by Kim McAvoy in TVNewsCheck and edited here for space considerations. If these topics interest you, contact Ron Cooper at 456-8600 ext. 112 and join the SMG.
“FCC Introduces Online Public File Rules” By Kim McAvoy — TVNewsCheck
The FCC voted unanimously today to toss out its 2007 “enhanced disclosure” rules (and the required Form 355) and replace them with new disclosure obligations that will require TV stations to post their public inspection files online for easier access.
As expected, the agency adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will actually expand local TV broadcasters’ online public file requirements.The FNRPM says TV stations’ online files must include political advertising records, sponsorship identification information, as well as shared services agreements.
Under the 2007 rules, that information was not part of any online requirements.The FCC’s new online rules will not require broadcasters to post their public letters or emails in the online file.The FCC says the online files will be kept on an FCC-hosted website.
An expected Notice of Inquiry that would suggest a new set of “enhanced disclosure” obligations forcing TV stations to provide a more detailed report on their programming, is being handled on circulation. This would replace the unpopular Form 355.
The NOI is expected to recommend that the agency adopt a new streamlined, Web-based form that would require broadcasters to provide programming information for two composite weeks per quarter selected by the FCC. It would replace the quarterly issues/programs lists that stations now keep in their public inspection files.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says the agency will act on the enhanced disclosure NOI in the “very near future.” Later, at a press briefing, the chairman reiterated that both items will be acted upon “in the spring.”
It appears that the National Association of Broadcasters is not ready to take a stand on the FNPRM. “NAB will be reviewing the specifics of the proposal and will actively participate in the proceeding going forward,” said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton in a statement.
But the FCC’s action did please public interest groups. Free Press attorney Corie Wright said: “By updating broadcasters’ reporting requirements and putting them online for easy access by viewers, the FCC could significantly improve consumers’ ability to hold broadcasters accountable for whether they’re using the publicly owned spectrum to serve and inform their communities. We are encouraged by the FCC’s pledge to move swiftly on implementing these much-needed reforms and we will hold it to this commitment.”
Also pleased with the commission’s actions was Anna Eshoo (Calif.) the ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee.“In an age of secretive political spending by unregulated outside groups like super PACs, consumers deserve to know who is using the public airwaves, and for what purpose. Larger issues of campaign finance disclosure remain unresolved by today’s proposal, but putting this information online is an important first step. Consumers deserve to know who is paying what to influence them. Burying that information in an out-of-the-way filing cabinet doesn’t meet the high standard the public deserves,” Eshoo said in a statement.