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.
"[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."
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