Broadcasters Push for Scrapping Correspondence File
The FCC may not have relieved broadcasters of local media ownership restrictions in its quadrennial review, but TV and radio stations will take their regulatory victories when they can get them and there is at least one deregulatory move that is drawing praise for the FCC from broadcasters around the country.
In comments filed with the commission, national and state broadcaster associations and others praised the proposal to eliminate the requirement that TV and radio stations keep copies of public correspondence in their public inspection files.
"NAB applauds the Commission for taking this step to reduce the regulatory burdens on commercial broadcasters," the National Association of Broadcasters said.
The FCC is now requiring that stations' (and cable operators and satellite operators) public files reside on an FCC administered online database but concluded that putting the letters there could pose a privacy issue, so instead was having stations keep them in an onsite paper inspection file.
But back in May, the FCC voted, and unanimously for a change, to propose dropping the requirement that 1) TV and radio stations keep and make available copies of correspondence from viewers and listeners and that 2) cable operators publicize, generally, the location of their principal headend.
FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly also saw a security issue.
"As I have pointed out in the past, the need to maintain the required correspondence files on paper and make them available to anyone walking in from the street creates can unnecessary security exposure for broadcasters," said O'Rielly following the unanimous vote.
In response to at least one commenter who argued the FCC should preserve the paper correspondence requirement, NAB said: "[T]he requirement is outdated. Stations receive feedback from the public in myriad ways; many of which are online, already available to the public, and not captured in the paper inspection file," NAB said, pointing to social media as one of those ways. "Second, the resources devoted to maintaining a local public file solely for correspondence diverts resources that stations would otherwise be able to invest in services that would more meaningfully serve their viewers and listeners. The cost of compliance to stations far outweighs the very limited benefit to the public," it said.
State broadcast associations, in a joint filing, said: "Eliminating the letters from the public requirement, and thereby culminating this last vestige of the physical public inspection file, presents the Commission with the opportunity to simultaneously reduce the burden on broadcasters while benefitting the public; first by allowing more effective use of station personnel to serve the public, and second by accelerating the online availability of public file content from smaller stations."
The FCC is phasing in the requirement for smaller stations, giving them until 2018, but encouraging them to beat that deadline if possible.
But not everyone was pushing for the change.
The National Hispanic Media Coalition told the FCC to keep a requirement it says is still "incredibly important." It called the letters arguably the most informative part of the public file since they represent "plain language" concerns rather than legalese which can be difficult to decipher.
"By eliminating correspondence from the public file," said NHMC, "the Commission would not only impinge on the dialogue between broadcasters and the public, but it would also prevent certain members of the community from determining if other people in their DMA share their concerns."
Given that the vote to eliminate the requirement was unanimous, it will likely get final approval.
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.