April Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: TV and Radio Renewals, Quarterly Issues, New Foreign Government Sponsorship ID Rules, Revised Radio Technical Rules, EEO Audits and Filings and More
By: David Oxenford,
Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP
Though this April is somewhat lighter than other months on regulatory deadlines for broadcasters, there are still dates to which broadcasters should pay attention. As noted below, all stations need to pay close attention to the quarterly obligation to post issues/programs lists to your online public file. Here is more on that date and information on some of the other dates and deadlines in April applicable to broadcasters.
After three years, the radio license renewal filing cycle closes on April 1, with renewal applications due from stations licensed to communities in Delaware and Pennsylvania. Renewal applications for TV stations licensed to communities in Texas are also due by April 1. The TV renewal cycle continues through 2023. Renewal applications must be accompanied by FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396 Broadcast EEO Program Report (except for LPFMs and TV translators). Stations filing for renewal of their license should make sure that all documents required to be uploaded to the station’s online public file are complete and were uploaded on time. Note that your Broadcast EEO Program Report must include two years of annual EEO public file reports for FCC review, unless your employment unit employs fewer than five full-time employees. Be sure to read the instructions for the license renewal application (radio, TV) and consult with your advisors if you have questions, especially if you have noticed any discrepancies in your online public file or political file.
Also, on or before April 1, all radio and TV station employment units (a station employment unit is a station or stations that share at least one full-time employee, are in the same geographic area that are under common control) with five or more full-time employees licensed to communities in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas must upload to their online public inspection file an Annual EEO Public File report. This report covers hiring and employment outreach activities for April 1, 2021 through March 31, 2022. These licensees must also post on the homepage of their station website (if they have one) a link to the most recent report.
By April 10, all full power radio, TV and Class A stations must upload quarterly issues/programs lists to their online public file. The lists should identify the issues of importance to the station’s community and the programs that the station aired in January, February and March that addressed those issues. As you finalize your lists, do so carefully and accurately, as they are the only official records of how your station is serving the public and addressing the needs and interests of its community. Note that, because the April 10 deadline falls on a weekend, the deadline is extended to the next business day, which is Monday, April 11. However, stations are encouraged to upload in advance of the deadline to account for any upload delays or errors. See our post here for more on this obligation
The National Association of Broadcasters and other groups will square off against the FCC in the US Court of Appeals on April 12 on the merits of the FCC’s new foreign government entity sponsorship identification rules, which went into effect on March 15. As we wrote in more detail here, the rules require that stations disclose when programming has been paid for or provided by a foreign governmental entity and take investigatory steps whenever they sell any blocks of program time to determine if any buyer of program time is a representative of a foreign government. The NAB has argued that the rules, especially the requirement that all buyers of blocks of program time be investigated for foreign-government ties, are unduly burdensome and have not been adequately justified. Even though this appeal is pending, the rules are nevertheless effective, and any stations must comply with the rules for any sale of any block of program time. Certain exceptions apply, including short-form advertising. Stations have until September 15, 2022 to review their current agreements and conduct the necessary diligence on any of these “leases” of program time. Stations should take these steps even while the NAB’s appeal moves along.
Several changes to the FCC’s radio technical rules that clean up inconsistent, outdated or inaccurate rules will take effect on April 18. The changes eliminate the rule on the maximum rated power of AM transmitters, clarify city-coverage requirements for NCE FM stations, lessen second-adjacent channel interference protections for Class D NCE FM stations and update some FM spacing requirements in border areas to conform to Mexican and Canadian treaty obligations. See more on these changes in this article on our Broadcast Law Blog.
And, of course, April 23-27 will bring the first NAB Show since 2019 – and we are looking forward to seeing clients and friends, many for the first time in 3 years. No doubt, regulatory issues will be among the topics for discussion at the Show. Let us know if you will be in attendance so that we can make sure to say hello.
Looking ahead to May, more than 250 radio and TV stations received letters telling them that they have been randomly selected for an audit of their EEO performance. Those responses are due by May 5. As explained in the audit letter (available here), station employment units (a station or stations that share at least one full-time employee, are in the same geographic area and are under common control) with five or more full-time employees must provide their last two EEO annual public file reports and supporting data that details their compliance with the EEO rules, including documentation of employment outreach efforts to fill full-time openings and information on the non-vacancy specific outreach initiatives to educate the community about broadcast employment and train employees to assume more responsible positions at their stations which must be conducted even if the employment unit had no employment vacancies. If your unit has five or more full-time employees, start working on your response now, as it can be time consuming to track down all of the required documents. We took a deeper look on the Blog at the audits and EEO compliance, here.
Review the calendar with your station’s advisors, identify the dates and deadlines applicable to your operations and stay on top of all required actions.
David Oxenford is MAB’s Washington Legal Counsel and provides members with answers to their legal questions with the MAB Legal Hotline. Access information here. (Members only access). There are no additional costs for the call; the advice is free as part of your MAB membership.