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FCC to Vote on Foreign Programming Disclosure Rules

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The FCC will vote at the April 22 open meeting to adopt new disclosure requirements when foreign entities buy airtime on U.S. broadcast outlets.

"If you are consuming programming broadcast over the public airwaves, you have the right to know who is behind that content," said acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in outlining the agenda. The fact that she has scheduled to vote likely means she has Republican support, without which there would be a 2-2 tie and the item would not be adopted. The vote on the initial proposal was unanimous, so this vote is likely to be as well.

Also Read: FCC Proposes Enhanced Foreign Programming Disclosures

Foreign governments and their agents can't hold a broadcast license, but Rosenworcel said that "foreign governmental entities are increasingly purchasing time on domestic broadcast stations," which is why the FCC is acting.

She said under the new sponsorship requirements, broadcasters will have to tell the FCC when a government or its representative leases time. "These rules will help to ensure transparency of foreign government-sponsored broadcast content in the United States," she said.

The chairwoman did not get into specifics on the item, but the fact that she talked only about domestic broadcast stations and broadcast content suggests the item does not extent the requirement to cable content, as broadcasters had suggested.

The FCC voted unanimously last October to propose the disclosure requirements for broadcast TV and radio content sponsored by foreign governments. The proposed rules require “a specific disclosure at the time of broadcast if a foreign governmental entity has paid a radio or television station, directly or indirectly, to air material, or if the programming was provided to the station free of charge by such an entity as an inducement to broadcast the material.”

Also Read: FCC Sets Deadline for Foreign-Owned Media Outlet Reports

The Biden White House has signaled clear concerns with foreign media content. In a Feb. 3 daily briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the White House’s position on RT (Russia Today). Psaki said she had not spoken with the president about RT, but said it was “pretty factual” to say the outlet was a Russian propaganda tool.

Cable operators and broadcasters agree that the Federal Communications Commission should be careful in making sure viewers know where their video and audio content is coming from, an issue that has taken on new urgency in an age of disinformation campaigns by foreign actors.

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.