NAB to FCC: Limit Online Filing Complaints

The National Association of Broadcasters is asking the FCC to at least look into limiting its public file complaint process to "actual viewers and listeners" rather than "persons or entities unrelated to local communities of license."

Various groups have been monitoring the files and filing complaints at the FCC, particularly about political filings.

The FCC did not identify any groups whose complaints it thought did not represent viewers and listeners, but said that "declining to consider public file complaints submitted from persons or entities unrelated to local communities of license would be consistent with the long-standing purpose of local public files. It would also reduce spurious allegations against stations, discourage the filing of mass electronic complaints made possible by today's technology, and conserve the FCC's limited resources for addressing valid and more locally relevant complaints."

That came in NAB's comments on the FCC's proposal to expand its requirement that TV stations make their public files — political ads, kids programming, etc. —  cover cable and satellite TV, as well as broadcast and satellite radio.

The FCC voted in December to propose requiring cable and DBS systems and radio stations (and XM-Sirius) to post their public files, including political files, in an FCC-administered online database.

That came in response to a petition filed by campaign finance reform groups seeking that extended online filing, some of the same groups NAB appears to be suggesting should not get to file complaints since they filed complaints against political filings that the FCC ultimately dismissed.

NAB conceded that the issue had not been raised in the FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on which it was commenting, and took the opportunity to ask the FCC to open a rulemaking into the issue.

The FCC in August asked whether that online filing requirement should be extended, seeking input on a petition to that effect filed by the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation.

The December NPRM was responsive to that petition, but added radio stations, which the petitioners did not ask be included, so it was responsive-plus.

The campaign finance reform groups sought enhanced disclosure of political ad files as one way to help them counter the flood of so-called "dark" money expenditures by third-party groups that followed the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case lifting limits on federal election spending by corporations and unions, spending that can be made through such groups.

Political files are records of political advertising purchases made by the media outlets, what they cost, and who made them, though Sunlight and the other petitioners argue the FCC also needs to tighten disclosure requirements on who is actually funding the ads, rather than just the name on the contract.

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.