This Advisory is designed to aid commercial and noncommercial radio and television stations comply with the FCC’s public inspection file rules, including the online public inspection file requirements. See 47 C.F.R. §§ 73.3526 and 73.3527. This Advisory discusses the public access, content, retention, and organizational requirements of these regulations. Previous editions of this Advisory are obsolete, and should not be relied upon.
For decades, the FCC required that public inspection files be kept at a station’s main studio in paper or electronic form. In a 2012 push to “modernize” the broadcast disclosure rules, the FCC modified this requirement by requiring stations to make most public file information available online in a Commission-hosted database. In January of 2016, the FCC extended the online public file requirement to broadcast radio stations,
starting with commercial radio stations in the Top 50 Nielsen Audio markets that have five or more full-time employees. Beginning on June 24, 2016, this “first wave” of radio stations must upload their public file materials created on or after that date to the online public inspection file. These stations have until December 24, 2016 to upload all public file documents (with a few exceptions discussed below) created prior to June 24.
All other radio stations (i.e., all non-commercial educational radio stations, commercial radio stations in the Top 50 Nielsen Audio markets with fewer than five full-time employees, and all commercial radio stations located outside of the Top 50 Nielsen Audio markets) will be required to upload their public inspection file documents to the online public inspection file by March 1, 2018, and then use the online public file going forward. This “second wave” of radio stations may continue to maintain their public inspection files exclusively at their main studio until that time, or can voluntarily transition to the online file early. Once a station has transitioned to the online public inspection file, it must provide a link to that file from the home page of that station’s website, if it has one. Beginning on June 24, 2016, online public inspection files will be hosted at https://publicfiles.fcc.gov/. Full power and Class A TV stations that already have a link on their stations’ websites to the FCC’s “old” public file database will need to verify that the link redirects to this new website address for online public inspection files and update the link on their station website, if they have one, to their current EEO Public Inspection File report in the online public file, which will not be redirected automatically.
With the following two exceptions, all content and retention requirements are the same for local and online public inspection files. First, the FCC does not require station licensees to make letters and email from the public available online due to privacy concerns. As of the date of this publication, each station must continue to maintain these documents in paper or electronic form in a local file at the station’s main studio. The FCC is considering eliminating altogether the requirement that correspondence from the public be kept in the public inspection file, and has released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing that change. However, until the FCC actually changes the requirement, stations must continue to retain such correspondence in a file located at their main studio.
Second, stations need only upload political file documentation on a going-forward basis. Thus, commercial radio stations in the Top 50 markets with five or more full-time employees that make up the “first wave” of radio stations subject to the online filing requirements may continue to maintain political file documentation that existed prior to June 24, 2016 in their local public file until the expiration of the two-year retention period. Similarly, radio stations moving to the online file as part of the “second wave” may continue to maintain political file documentation that existed prior to March 1, 2018 in their local public file until the expiration of the two-year retention period.
Public Access to the Public Inspection File
The FCC requires every applicant, permittee, or licensee of a full-power AM, FM, or TV station or of a Class A TV station to maintain a public inspection file. The purpose of this file, according to the Commission, is “to make information to which the public already has a right more readily available, so that the public will be encouraged to play a more active part in a dialogue with broadcast licensees.” Because the public file rules are part of the FCC’s commitment to responsive broadcasting, the Commission places great importance on the public’s ability to readily access all of the information required to be in the public file. (Continued…)
A PDF version of this entire article can be found at Special Advisory for Commercial and Noncommercial Broadcasters: Meeting the Radio and Television Public Inspection File