Articles Posted in Television

Published on:

This Pillsbury Broadcast Station Advisory is directed to radio and television stations in the areas noted above, and highlights upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC’s EEO Rule.

February 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their Public Inspection File and post the report on their station website.  In addition, certain of these stations, as detailed below, must submit their two most recent EEO Public File Reports along with FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396 as part of their license renewal application submissions due by February 3.

Under the FCC’s EEO Rule, all radio and television station employment units (“SEUs”), regardless of staff size, must afford equal opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.

In addition, those SEUs with five or more full-time employees (“Nonexempt SEUs”) must also comply with the FCC’s three-prong outreach requirements.  Specifically, Nonexempt SEUs must (i) broadly and inclusively disseminate information about every full-time job opening, except in exigent circumstances, (ii) send notifications of full-time job vacancies to referral organizations that have requested such notification, and (iii) earn a certain minimum number of EEO credits, based on participation in various non-vacancy-specific outreach initiatives (“Menu Options”) suggested by the FCC, during each of the two-year segments (four segments total) that comprise a station’s eight-year license term.  These Menu Option initiatives include, for example, sponsoring job fairs, participating in job fairs, and having an internship program.

Nonexempt SEUs must prepare and place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the Public Inspection Files and on the websites of all stations comprising the SEU (if they have a website) by the anniversary date of the filing deadline for that station’s license renewal application.  The Annual EEO Public File Report summarizes the SEU’s EEO activities during the previous 12 months, and the licensee must maintain adequate records to document those activities.  As discussed below, nonexempt SEUs must submit to the FCC their two most recent Annual EEO Public File Reports when they file their license renewal applications.

For a detailed description of the EEO Rule and practical assistance in preparing a compliance plan, broadcasters should consult The FCC’s Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies – A Guide for Broadcasters published by Pillsbury’s Communications Practice Group.  This publication is available at: http://www.pillsburylaw.com/publications/broadcasters-guide-to-fcc-equal-employment-opportunity-rules-policies. Continue reading →

Published on:

More than fifteen years after the adoption of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (“BCRA”) of 2002, popularly known as “McCain-Feingold,” Congress’s and the Federal Communications Commission’s interest in political broadcasting and political advertising practices remains undiminished.  Broadcast stations must meet a broad range of federal mandates, and must therefore familiarize themselves with this regulatory area, ensuring they have adequate policies and practices in place and that they monitor legislative, FCC, and Federal Election Commission developments for changes in the law.

Stations must adopt and meticulously apply political broadcasting policies that are consistent with the Communications Act and the FCC’s rules, including the all-important requirement that stations fully and accurately disclose in writing their rates, classes of advertising, and sales practices to candidates.  This information should be provided to candidates and their agents in a station’s Political Advertising Disclosure Statement.

Many of the political broadcasting regulations are grounded in the “Reasonable Access,” “Equal Opportunities,” and “Lowest Unit Charge” provisions of the Communications Act.  These elements of the law ensure that broadcast facilities are available to candidates for federal office, that broadcasters treat competing candidates equally, and that stations provide candidates with the same rates offered to their most-favored commercial advertisers during specified periods prior to an election.  As a general rule, stations may not discriminate between candidates for the same office as to station use, the amount of time given or sold, or in any other meaningful way.

These rules are enforced through fairly stringent recordkeeping requirements, with a station’s political advertising documentation required to be kept in its political file—a file that is now available online to the public as part of a station’s Public Inspection File.  Political files must contain a station’s political documentation for the past two years.  As of the publication of this Advisory, all TV political file documents going back two years and most radio political file documents going back two years are online.  However, the FCC allowed certain smaller, small market, and noncommercial radio stations a longer period of time to move their pre-March 1, 2018 political documents online.  For these stations, their political files are not required to be completely online until March 1, 2020.

Because of the transition to online political files, broadcasters must be even more diligent to ensure that all political documents are timely created and uploaded.  The past few years have seen an uptick in political complaints from watchdog organizations which now have convenient around-the-clock access to stations’ political files.  Unfortunately, many of those who have suddenly gained ready access to stations’ political files do not understand the political rules and may allege that a station’s political file is missing required information when the political file is in fact complete. It is therefore important for stations to understand their obligations so they are able to quickly respond to such allegations before they generate formal FCC complaints.  Even where the station is completely in the right, responding to FCC complaints and investigations can be expensive, and diverts the attention of station staff from operating the station and serving the public.

While this Advisory outlines the political broadcasting rules in general terms, application of the rules can be quite fact-specific and there are many additional aspects of the rules too numerous to address within this Advisory. Accordingly, stations should contact legal counsel with specific questions or problems they encounter.

The Advisory continues at 2020 Political Broadcasting Advisory.

 

Published on:

Each full power and Class A TV station being repacked must file its next quarterly Transition Progress Report with the FCC by January 10, 2020.  The Report must detail the progress a station has made in constructing facilities on its newly-assigned channel and in terminating operations on its current channel during the months of October, November and December 2019.  However, in a March 28, 2019 Public Notice, the FCC waived the quarterly Transition Progress Report due on January 10, 2020 for stations assigned to Phase 8 of the transition.  The quarterly deadline falls within days of the deadline for those stations’ 10-Week Report (which stations must continue to timely file), making the quarterly report redundant.

Following the 2017 broadcast television spectrum incentive auction, the FCC imposed a requirement that television stations transitioning to a new channel in the repack file a quarterly Transition Progress Report by the 10th of January, April, July, and October of each year.  The first such report was due on October 10, 2017.

The next quarterly Transition Progress Report must be filed with the FCC by January 10, 2020, and must reflect the progress made by the reporting station in constructing facilities on its newly-assigned channel and in terminating operations on its current channel during the period from October 1 through December 31, 2019.  The Report must be filed electronically on FCC Form 2100, Schedule 387 via the FCC’s Licensing and Management System (LMS), accessible at https://enterpriseefiling.fcc.gov/dataentry/login.html.

The Transition Progress Report form includes a number of baseline questions, such as whether a station needs to conduct a structural analysis of its tower, obtain any non-FCC permits or FAA Determinations of No Hazard, or order specific types of equipment to complete the transition.  Depending on a station’s response to a question, the electronic form then asks for additional information regarding the steps the station has taken towards completing the required item.  Ultimately, the form requires each station to indicate whether it anticipates that it will meet the construction deadline for its transition phase. Continue reading →

Published on:

The next Quarterly Issues/Programs List (“Quarterly List”) must be placed in stations’ Public Inspection Files by January 10, 2020, reflecting information for the months of October, November, and December 2019.

Content of the Quarterly List

The FCC requires each broadcast station to air a reasonable amount of programming responsive to significant community needs, issues, and problems as determined by the station.  The FCC gives each station the discretion to determine which issues facing the community served by the station are the most significant and how best to respond to them in the station’s overall programming.

To demonstrate a station’s compliance with this public interest obligation, the FCC requires the station to maintain and place in the Public Inspection File a Quarterly List reflecting the “station’s most significant programming treatment of community issues during the preceding three month period.”  By its use of the term “most significant,” the FCC has noted that stations are not required to list all responsive programming, but only that programming which provided the most significant treatment of the issues identified.

Given that program logs are no longer mandated by the FCC, the Quarterly Lists may be the most important evidence of a station’s compliance with its public service obligations.  The lists also provide important support for the certification of Class A television station compliance discussed below.  We therefore urge stations not to “skimp” on the Quarterly Lists, and to err on the side of over-inclusiveness.  Otherwise, stations risk a determination by the FCC that they did not adequately serve the public interest during the license term.  Stations should include in the Quarterly Lists as much issue-responsive programming as they feel is necessary to demonstrate fully their responsiveness to community needs.  Taking extra time now to provide a thorough Quarterly List will help reduce risk at license renewal time.

It should be noted that the FCC has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the Quarterly Lists and often brings enforcement actions against stations that do not have fully complete Quarterly Lists or that do not timely place such lists in their Public Inspection File.  The FCC’s base fine for missing Quarterly Lists is $10,000.

Preparation of the Quarterly List

The Quarterly Lists are required to be placed in the Public Inspection File by January 10, April 10, July 10, and October 10 of each year.  The next Quarterly List is required to be placed in stations’ Public Inspection Files by January 10, 2020, covering the period from October 1, 2019 through December 31, 2019. Continue reading →

Published on:

With radio license renewals underway, TV license renewals starting soon, the TV repack chugging along, and a whole new set of deadlines for kidvid launching this year, there are a lot of 2020 deadlines that broadcasters must track and meet.

To help broadcasters accomplish that, Pillsbury has published a new edition of its Broadcasters’ Calendar each year for longer than anyone can recall. (This is the 33rd edition that I’ve personally contributed to.)

And it is a doozy. 2020 is one of the busier regulatory years in recent memory, making the recently published 2020 edition of the Pillsbury Broadcasters’ Calendar an essential tool for broadcasters. While the internet works well for monitoring breaking changes in regulations and deadlines, its tendency to focus your attention on each new change in isolation makes it a poor tool for broadcasters seeking to obtain the big picture and plan their year.

In particular, TV broadcasters will want to focus on the various deadlines related to children’s television. With the FCC’s new rules going into effect on January 21, 2020, broadcasters are entering into a rather complicated transitional period, and we held off on finalizing this year’s Broadcasters’ Calendar until all of those deadlines were set. That allows broadcasters to not only ensure they are meeting their modified January 10 obligations, but to see how those obligations mesh with the shift from quarterly to annual kidvid obligations.

There are sure to be plenty of surprises in 2020. Regulatory obligations that are already in place should not be one of them. We hope you find the 2020 Pillsbury Broadcasters’ Calendar a useful addition to your planning for the year ahead, and wish you a successful 2020.

Published on:

Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others.  This month’s issue includes:

  • North Carolina FM Translator Station Hit With $2,000 Proposed Fine Over Primary Station Change
  • FCC Admonishes Georgia TV Stations for Insufficient Political File Disclosures
  • FCC Proposes Historic Fine Against Massachusetts Pirate Radio Operation

Carolina On My Mind: FCC Proposes $2,000 Fine Over Raleigh FM Translator’s Primary Station Confusion

A Raleigh FM translator briefly rebroadcast a station that was not its primary station and which was already being rebroadcast by another commonly-owned translator in the area.  In response, the FCC proposed a $2,000 fine for the licensee’s failure to notify the Commission or to provide any justification for such redundant operations.

An FM translator station rebroadcasts the signal of a primary AM or FM station on a different frequency.  Translators are often used to provide “fill in” service in poor reception areas due to distance or terrain obstructions.  Section 74.1251(c) of the FCC’s Rules requires an FM translator station to notify the FCC in writing if it changes its primary station.  Pursuant to Section 74.1232, an entity may not hold multiple FM translator licenses to retransmit the same signal to substantially the same service area without first demonstrating “technical need” for an additional station, such as a signal gap in the service area.

The Raleigh licensee originally applied for a construction permit to build facilities for an FM translator in July 2018 and shortly thereafter amended the application to change the translator’s proposed primary station.  The FCC’s Media Bureau granted the application a few weeks later.  After completing construction, the licensee filed, and the Media Bureau granted, a license for the translator.

Throughout this process, the licensee of a nearby low power FM station filed multiple petitions–one challenging the FCC’s grant of the construction permit, and a later one challenging the grant of the license itself.  Though the first petition was dismissed by the FCC as “procedurally defective”, the latter became the basis of an investigation into the new station.  The petitioner claimed that since initiating service, the new translator station had been rebroadcasting a nearby AM station rather than the FM station specified as the primary station in its construction permit application.  According to the petitioner, the translator only “returned” to its authorized primary station when the primary FM station began simulcasting the AM station.

The petitioner also asserted that the translator licensee failed to show any “technical need” to rebroadcast the AM station since the AM station was already being rebroadcast to substantially the same area by another translator licensed to an entity that was commonly-owned with the FM translator.

The FCC concluded that the new translator had violated its rules by failing to notify the FCC when it commenced rebroadcasting the AM station during its first month of operation.  The FCC further determined that the licensee should have first submitted a “technical need” showing to support this change due to the presence of the nearby commonly-owned translator station rebroadcasting the same programming.

As a result, the FCC issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order and Notice of Apparent Liability against the licensee, proposing a $2,000 fine.  While FCC guidelines set a base fine of $3,000 for failure to file required forms or information, and a $4,000 base fine for unauthorized emissions, the Commission may adjust a fine upward or downward after considering the particular facts of each case.  Acknowledging the brief duration of the licensee’s violations and finding no history of prior offenses, the FCC proposed a total fine of $2,000.  Additionally, the Commission determined that the licensee’s actions did not raise a “substantial or material question of fact” regarding the licensee’s qualifications to remain a licensee, and affirmed its decision to grant the translator license application.

Political Ad Nauseum: FCC Admonishes Georgia TV Stations Over Political File Defects

In a recent Order, the FCC’s Media Bureau admonished the licensees of two Georgia television stations in response to complaints alleging violations of the FCC’s political file rules.  According to the FCC, the stations failed to sufficiently comply with record-keeping obligations in response to several political ad sales made in 2017.

Pursuant to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (often referred to as “BCRA” or the “McCain-Feingold Act”), broadcasters are required to keep and make available extensive records of purchases and requests for purchases of advertising time if the advertisement communicates a message relating to a “political matter of national importance”.  Section 315(e) of the Communications Act of 1934, which was amended by BCRA, states that ads that trigger such disclosure include those that relate to legally qualified federal candidates and elections to federal office, as well as “national legislative issues” of public importance. Continue reading →

Published on:

[Editor’s Note: Pillsbury will be conducting a December 3, 2019 webinar for broadcasters on the new overtime regulations sponsored by the National Alliance of State Broadcasters Associations.  Details can be found here.]

On September 24, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor published final regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act that raised the minimum salary level necessary to be exempt from federal overtime rules under the Act by almost 50%.  While the changes affect all businesses subject to the FLSA, broadcasters in particular may feel the impact of the changes given the staffing models used by many TV and radio stations.  The new requirements will go into effect on January 1, 2020, and broadcasters should take steps to adapt to, and minimize the impact of, those changes prior to that deadline.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) is the federal law governing wage and hour requirements for employees.  Pursuant to the FLSA, employers must pay employees a minimum wage and compensate them for overtime at 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for any time worked exceeding 40 hours in a workweek unless those employees are exempt from the requirement.  On September 24, 2019, the Department of Labor issued a Final Rule that increased the minimum salary threshold for certain types of employees to be exempt from the FLSA’s overtime rules.  As a result, many currently exempt employees whose salaries are below the new thresholds will soon be eligible for overtime pay.  The White House projects the change will impact an estimated 1.3 million previously-exempt employees.

Although the FLSA applies to almost all employers, the law contains exemptions for certain types of employees at small-market broadcast stations.  The Final Rule does not affect these broadcast industry-specific exemptions, but will affect many other currently exempt employees in the broadcast industry who, unless they receive salary raises, will soon become eligible for overtime pay.

This Advisory only addresses federal law.  Some state laws impose stricter standards than federal law as to which employees are exempt from overtime pay.  Employers must ensure that they also meet the requirements of any applicable state or local employment laws.

Overview

The FLSA requires employers to pay non-exempt employees an overtime rate of 1.5 times their regular rate for all hours worked over 40 hours per workweek.  However, the FLSA exempts from its overtime rules certain classes of employees who are paid on a salary basis and who also meet specific “white collar” duties tests.  The Department of Labor’s Final Rule increases the minimum salary required for these classes of employees to be deemed exempt from the FLSA’s overtime rules, but does not alter the duties tests for those exemptions. Continue reading →

Published on:

This Pillsbury Broadcast Station Advisory is directed to radio and television stations in the areas noted above, and highlights upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC’s EEO Rule.

December 1 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their Public Inspection File and post the report on their station website.  In addition, certain of these stations, as detailed below, must submit their two most recent EEO Public File Reports along with FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396 as part of their license renewal application submissions due on December 1.

Under the FCC’s EEO Rule, all radio and television station employment units (“SEUs”), regardless of staff size, must afford equal opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.

In addition, those SEUs with five or more full-time employees (“Nonexempt SEUs”) must also comply with the FCC’s three-prong outreach requirements.  Specifically, Nonexempt SEUs must (i) broadly and inclusively disseminate information about every full-time job opening, except in exigent circumstances, (ii) send notifications of full-time job vacancies to referral organizations that have requested such notification, and (iii) earn a certain minimum number of EEO credits, based on participation in various non-vacancy-specific outreach initiatives (“Menu Options”) suggested by the FCC, during each of the two-year segments (four segments total) that comprise a station’s eight-year license term.  These Menu Option initiatives include, for example, sponsoring job fairs, participating in job fairs, and having an internship program.

Nonexempt SEUs must prepare and place their Annual EEO Public File Report in the Public Inspection Files and on the websites of all stations comprising the SEU (if they have a website) by the anniversary date of the filing deadline for that station’s license renewal application.  The Annual EEO Public File Report summarizes the SEU’s EEO activities during the previous 12 months, and the licensee must maintain adequate records to document those activities.  As discussed below, nonexempt SEUs must submit to the FCC their two most recent Annual EEO Public File Reports when they file their license renewal applications.

For a detailed description of the EEO Rule and practical assistance in preparing a compliance plan, broadcasters should consult The FCC’s Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies – A Guide for Broadcasters published by Pillsbury’s Communications Practice Group.  This publication is available at: http://www.pillsburylaw.com/publications/broadcasters-guide-to-fcc-equal-employment-opportunity-rules-policies. Continue reading →

Published on:

The Federal Communications Commission released a Public Notice reminding broadcast licensees that the filing window for Broadcast Biennial Ownership Reports (FCC Form 323 and 323-E) will open on November 1, 2019.  All licensees of commercial and noncommercial AM, FM, full-power TV, Class A Television and Low Power Television stations must submit their ownership reports by January 31, 2020.

We previously reported that the FCC had modified the dates for the filing window.  At that time, the FCC explained that there would be “additional technical improvements” that required the FCC to delay the opening of the filing window.  Now, we know more about those improvements.

In particular, the FCC modified its filing system to permit parties to validate and resubmit previously-filed ownership reports, so long as those reports were submitted through the current filing system.  Further, filers will be able to copy and then make changes to information included in previously-submitted reports.  The FCC also created a new search page dedicated solely to reviewing submitted ownership reports.

As a reminder, biennial ownership reports submitted during this filing window must reflect the ownership interests associated with the facility as of October 1, 2019, even if an assignment or transfer of control was consummated after October 1, 2019.

Published on:

Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others.  This month’s issue includes:

  • Faith-Based Station Settles With FCC After Preempting KidVid Programming With Fundraising
  • Arizona LPFM Gets License Reinstated in Consent Decree
  • Christmas Tree’s Harmful Interference Results in Consent Decree With LED Company

Gotta Have Faith: Washington TV Station That Preempted Children’s Programming With Fundraising Settles With FCC

The FCC recently entered into a Consent Decree with the licensee of a faith-based Washington TV station for inaccurate Children’s Television Programming Reports and for failing to provide a sufficient amount of “core” children’s educational programming.

Pursuant to the Children’s Television Act of 1990, the FCC’s children’s television programming (“KidVid”) rules require TV stations to provide programming that “serve[s] the educational and informational needs of children.”  Under the KidVid guidelines in place at the time of the alleged violations, stations were expected to air an average of at least three hours per week of “core” educational children’s programming per program stream.  To count as “core” programming, the programs had to be regularly-scheduled, at least 30 minutes in length, and broadcast between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10 p.m.  A station that aired somewhat less than the averaged three hours per week of core programming could still satisfy its children’s programming obligations by airing other types of programs demonstrating “a level of commitment” to educating children that is “at least equivalent” to airing three hours per week of core programming.  The FCC has since acknowledged that this alternative approach resulted in so much uncertainty that stations rarely invoked it.

Stations must file a Children’s Television Programming Report (currently quarterly, soon to be annually) with the FCC demonstrating compliance with these guidelines.  The reports are then placed in the station’s online Public Inspection File.  Upon a station’s application for license renewal, the Media Bureau reviews these reports to assess the station’s performance over the previous license term.  If the Media Bureau determines that the station failed to comply with the KidVid guidelines, it must refer the application to the full Commission for review of the licensee’s compliance with the Children’s Television Act of 1990.  As we have previously discussed, the FCC recently made significant changes to its KidVid core programming and reporting obligations, much of it having gone into effect earlier this month.

During its review of the station’s 2014 license renewal application, the Media Bureau noticed shortfalls in the station’s core programming scheduling and inaccuracies in the station’s quarterly KidVid reports over the previous term.  It therefore issued a Letter of Inquiry to the station to obtain additional information.  In response, the station acknowledged that it had in fact preempted core programming with live fundraising, but asserted that it still met its obligations through other “supplemental” programming, albeit outside of the 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. window for core programming.  Inaccuracies in its reports were blamed on “clerical errors.”

The Media Bureau concluded that the station’s supplemental programming did not count toward the station’s core programming requirements.  Without getting into the merits of the programming itself, the Media Bureau found the programming insufficient because it was aired outside of the core programming hours.  The Media Bureau also concluded that the station had provided inaccurate information on several of the quarterly reports.

In response, the FCC and the station negotiated a Consent Decree under which the station agreed to pay a $30,700 penalty to the U.S. Treasury and implement a three-year compliance plan.  In return, the FCC agreed to terminate its investigation and grant the station’s pending 2014 license renewal application upon timely payment of the penalty, assuming the FCC did not subsequently discover any other “impediments” to license renewal.

Radio Reset: LPFM License Reinstated (for Now) in Consent Decree Over Various Licensing and Underwriting Violations

In response to years of ownership, construction, and other problems that culminated in its license being revoked in 2018, the licensee of an Arizona low power FM (“LPFM”) station entered into a Consent Decree with the Media Bureau and the Enforcement Bureau. Continue reading →