Broadcasters would be given a wide berth if, and when, the Federal Communications Commission decides to allow radio and television stations to shift to the web some of the requirement notices currently placed in local newspapers. The Commission voted to launch a rulemaking proceeding (MB Docket Nos. 17-264) in September to allow stations to make that change as long as it’s done in tandem with the use of on-air announcements directing listeners to where they can find out more online. The proposal would require a station to air the announcements at least once a week between 7am and 11pm over four consecutive weeks. But some public interest groups think the FCC should be stricter and require the on-air mentions to occur between 7am and 6pm for radio and 7pm and 10pm for television. They say it would better reflect how consumers use each medium. And they think stations should be required to air them at least six times rather than the proposed four.
The FCC appears to be considering a compromise proposal, and it’s finding the radio and TV industry is ready to go along with it. The National Association of Broadcasters has just told the FCC that it would be willing to split the difference. The NAB thinks the 7am to 11pm window should be maintained to give broadcasters the “needed flexibility” to manage the use of their limited air time. But the NAB has gone on the record saying it would “not object” to a rule that would increase the minimum number of times the announcement airs from the four proposed by the FCC to the six advocated by outside groups.
The Media Bureau is also looking at how online notices appear on a station’s website. The NAB has urged the Commission to allow a station to put the link at the bottom of the page, similar to how links to the online public file appear. That’s significantly different from the FCC proposal that would require the full text of the online notice to appear on a station website for 30 days. According to a disclosure filing, the Bureau indicated to the NAB that it’s looking at the option of making notices available by clicking on a tab at the top of a station’s home page.
The NAB took that idea to several radio and TV groups and it said that some broadcasters expressed concerns about the tab idea, in part because it require a website that accommodates a tab option. The message it took back to the FCC is that some of these broadcasters would prefer to place the entire text of the notice on their pages, rather than otherwise altering their sites. Others said they’d find the tab option less burdensome than placing the full text on station home pages.
That’s has the NAB coming down on the side of options. It has told the FCC that any approach that gives broadcasters “reasonable flexibility” would be fine by them, including the option to place the full text of the notice on the station’s home page or using a tab at the top of the page.
The Commission has been considering changes to the disclosure requirement since 2005 but it wasn’t until October 2017 that the latest effort picked up steam. During September’s vote reopening the rulemaking for additional comments, it appeared Chairman Ajit Pai had the necessary votes to get the proposal approved. The granular nature of the conversations now underway between the FCC and NAB signals the agency is honing in on some decisions to be brought to a vote in the coming months.