FCC Issuing Fines for Out-of-Date & Non-Existent Online Public Inspection Files

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, 2020 will be a very busy regulatory year. To help you plan, download WBK Law’s 2020 Broadcasters Regulatory Deadline Calendar and/or Pillsbury Law’s 2020 Broadcasters Calendar

FCC Actively Reviewing OPIF System for Violations

It’s hard to believe, but even though the deadline was 3/1/18, some stations have not yet activated their online public inspection file (OPIF). It’s easier to believe that some stations have failed to keep their OPIF up-to-date. Because these stations are at risk of substantial FCC fines, VAB strongly recommends you not to wait to confirm your station is complying. We have been informed that FCC staff are carefully reviewing the OPIF system for stations still lacking an online public file altogether as well as dormant online public files or required items that are missing or filed late. Remember, uploads to your OPIF are time and date-stamped, so filing by the quarterly deadlines is essential.

The license renewal cycle is well underway for radio stations and failure to properly maintain the public file takes on additional importance because stations must certify that their public file has been complete and up-to-date at all times during the license term, or disclose violations. The FCC considers a lack of candor in renewal applications an extremely serious violation. In addition to substantial fines, an incomplete online public file can lead to delays in the license renewal process.

Bottom line – if you don’t want hefty fines or to jeopardize your license – get it done!

jan10Friday, January 10, 2020 is the deadline to get the following Quarterly reports uploaded to your Online Public Inspection File:

2019 Fourth Quarter Issues-Programs

2019 Fourth Quarter repack Transition Progress Report

2019 Fourth Quarter Childrens Programming (television only)

Political & Federal Issue Ads


Reporting Them:

With political ads already beginning to air for the 2020 election and ads likely to air about a number of other issues being considered in Washington, stations need to be sure that they are complying with the FCC’s recent interpretation of what is required to be contained in the public file disclosures about Federal issue ads.

The recent FCC interpretation says that stations must include in the public file complete information about all of the candidates, all of the elections, and all of the issues discussed in any Federal Issue ad – not just the primary issue or election addressed in such an ad.  The FCC decision even notes that a state issue ad could become a Federal issue ad simply by mentioning a Federal issue (e.g. if a PAC buys an ad attacking a candidate for governor because, when in Congress, the candidate voted against the Border Wall, that PAC ad will likely be considered a Federal issue ad that needs to identify the “border wall” as the Federal issue that it addresses – and as a Federal issue ad, it will likely require the disclosure of all price and schedule information which is not required for a pure state issue ad).

As issue ad buyers are not likely to provide all of this information voluntarily, stations need to monitor the ads and identify in their public file all of the Federal candidates and issues discussed.  The ruling also required that, when an issue ad buyer identifies only a single member of its its executive officers or board of directors (who need to be identified in the public file for both state and Federal issues ads), the station needs to make an inquiry of the sponsor or the agency that bought the ad as to whether there are other officers or directors who should be disclosed (as most buyers will have more than one member of their executive committee or board of directors).

The FCC’s new interpretations are very detailed and nuanced, so you should discuss compliance with your attorney.

Here is more general information from David Oxenford on these rulings and on the NAB appeal of the FCC’s decision

Charging For Them:

jan18Presidential primaries and caucuses are right around the corner, including the election-heavy day in March often dubbed Super Tuesday.  This means stations in more than two dozen states will soon find themselves within the 45-day primary/caucus political window, which brings with it special obligations like lowest unit rates for candidates.  With lowest unit charge windows opening on January 18, 2020 in Vermont, stations should plan ahead to be sure station employees understand the requirements that go along with political advertising, including lowest unit charge and the expanded public file disclosure obligations issued by the FCC in mid-October.  For more guidance on navigating election season, View Pillsbury Law’s 2020 Political Broadcasting Advisory, view David Oxenford’s Political Broadcasting Guide for Broadcasters and/or read this article by David Oxenford.

Children’s Programming (TV Only)

Jan30One of the biggest changes of the last year to the broadcast regulatory landscape is the modification of the programming and reporting requirements for children’s television programming.  Stations are no longer required to submit quarterly reports documenting their compliance with the children’s TV rules.  Instead, reporting will now be done annually, and stations must file their first annual report—FCC Form 2100, Schedule H—electronically through LMS by Thursday, January 30, 2020.

For a deeper look at how to comply with the new programming and reporting changes, see David Oxenford’s posts hereherehere, and here.  Waiting on further guidance from the FCC about the quarterly certifications regarding compliance with commercial limits and websites during children’s programming.  Unless the FCC staff issues guidance to the contrary, stations should probably plan on uploading those certifications by January 10, 2020.