FCC Issues Payola Fact Sheet

The FCC Wednesday issued a "fact sheet" on payola that will be available on its Web site.

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein was a driving force behind the sheet, which will be sent to subscribers to the FCC's daily new releases as well as available on the Web site.

Adelstein  has made prominent disclosure of all paid programing a centerpiece of his new term, speaking out at various venues against everything from undisclosed VNRs to insufficiently identified product placements. He has also asked viewers to keep an eye out for plugs that aren't disclosed, complain, and send him a copy of the complaint.

Media activist group Free Press planned Wednesday to take Adelstein up on the offer, filing a complaint about what it said were various pay-for-play incidents and asking the FCC to widen its investigation into the Armstrong Williams PR contract to promote DOE policy to other payola-related issues.

The new fact sheet is essentially a primer on what broadcasters should and shouldn't be doing and how viewers can complain.

Earlier this year, the FCC also created a Web form it said was intended to make it easier to lodge indecency complaints.
The payola fact sheet follows:
• When a broadcast licensee has received or been promised payment for the airing of program material, then, at the time of the airing, the station must disclose that fact and identify who paid for or promised to pay for the material. All sponsored material must be explicitly identified at the time of broadcast as paid for and by whom, except when it is clear that the mention of a product or service constitutes sponsorship identification.
• Any broadcast station employee who has accepted or agreed to accept payment for the airing of program material, or the person making or promising to make the payment, must disclose this information to the station prior to the airing of the program.
• Any person involved in the production or preparation of a program who receives or agrees to receive payment for the airing of program material must disclose this information. Broadcast licensees must make reasonable efforts to obtain from their employees and others they deal with for program material the information necessary to make the required sponsorship identification announcements.
• The information must be provided up the chain of production and distribution before the time of broadcast, so the station can air the required disclosure.
• These rules apply to all kinds of program material aired over radio and television stations. Some may also apply to cablecasts.
What You Can Do if You Think the Rules Have Been Violated
The FCC acknowledges that broadcasters play a critical role in providing information to the communities and audiences they serve.

If you suspect a broadcaster has violated the FCC’s rules, you can file a complaint with the FCC. To assist the FCC in its review, the complaint should include the following:

  • Details of the content of the broadcast;
  • The date and time of the broadcast;
  • Why you believe that payment or other consideration was provided, requiring the airing of a sponsorship identification announcement;
  • The call sign of the broadcast station involved;
  • The fact that no sponsorship identification was aired; and
  • Any documents that you believe establish any of the foregoing.
John Eggerton

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.