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FCC Announces Comment Deadlines on Replacement for Television Quarterly Issues Programs Lists

At its October Open Meeting, the FCC announced that it was moving ahead on two proposals to “standardize” and “enhance” television stations’ public reporting regarding the programming they air, and their business and operational practices. The first of those items to be released related to the Online Public Inspection File, which we report on in detail here and here. The Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in that proceeding has already been published in the Federal Register and the first round of comments in that proceeding are due on December 22, 2011.

The second item, which deals with the new disclosure form to replace television stations’ current Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and the FCC’s prior failed attempt to standardize and enhance station disclosures on FCC Form 355, has now appeared in the Federal Register. We discuss this proposed form in detail here. The publication of this item establishes the deadline for comments on the new form, which are due on January 17, 2012, with Reply Comments due on January 30, 2012.

The FCC has moved swiftly in getting these items published, thereby commencing the public input process on these proposals, and has indicated that they are a high priority at the Commission. Broadcasters’ best opportunity to influence how these proposals take shape is now. As a result, stations should review the proposed form and our analysis of both it and the related Online Public File to understand the impact these new requirements could have on their operations.

We previously noted that the proposed form is highly duplicative of portions of the Online Public File proposal. Regardless of what information is collected, having to disclose it twice, in two different formats, is a burden on broadcasters that the FCC appears to have not acknowledged. In addition, the new form being put forth by the FCC for comment, far from merely standardizing the way programming information is disclosed, could well end up standardizing what programming is actually aired, intruding on licensee programming discretion.

Broadcasters that fail to participate in these proceedings do so at their own peril, as the resulting regulatory requirements could well be the proverbial lump of coal that TV broadcasters find in their stocking this year.