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FCC Signals Openness to Pandemic-Driven Waivers of Ownership Regs

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the FCC's Media Bureau has signaled it will look favorably on requests for waivers of its limits on the amount of programming a "brokered" station can air from a broadcast partner and not violate local TV ownership rules. 

"The Commission recognizes that broadcasters play an essential role in helping Americans stay safe and informed during the COVID-19 outbreak," the bureau said. 

Currently the FCC limits the programming that a station can supply to another, brokered, station through a shared services agreement or local marketing agreement to 15% of weekly programming hours. But the FCC Wednesday (March 25) issued "guidance" for TV stations that are party to such existing sharing agreements. 

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"[W]e understand that broadcast television stations may desire to serve the public interest by providing extra local coverage of information that may relate to testing, triage, and/or other local COVID-19 issues of community concern," the FCC's Media Bureau said.  

As a result, it said individual licensees can request a waiver if such added coverage could run afoul of ownership rules, and can even do so by email to expedite the process, the bureau said, a break with traditional process and a clear indication it is inclined to grant the waiver during the pandemic, though the bureau said it is still a fact-specific, case-by-case process. 

It also pointed out that the waivers would only last as long as the pandemic "remains a national emergency."

The bureau also said that licensees seeking a waiver "should describe how additional coverage would assist in providing community-specific information regarding COVID-19 and how such needs would be better met by allowing for the production of additional news and/or informational programming by the brokering station."