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Political File Violations Land Six Radio Groups in FCC Consent Decrees

The FCC’s Media bureau has announced settlements with the owners of six large U.S. radio groups over deficiencies in the political file component of their stations’ Public Inspection Files.

The commission announced consent decrees with Alpha Media USA LLC; Beasley Media Group Licenses, LLC; Cumulus Media New Holdings Inc.; Entercom License, LLC; iHeartMedia, Inc.; and Salem Media Group, Inc.

The FCC said the six corporations collectively own and operate more than 1,800 stations across the country, of which more than 125 are in Texas.

“It is critical that information about political advertising is transparent to the public and candidates for office,” said Michelle Carey, Chief of the Media Bureau.

“Adherence to the requirements in the consent decrees will ensure compliance with the online political file rules during this election year.”

Online Public File Enables Ongoing FCC Monitoring
The consent decrees should remind all broadcasters that the online station Public Inspection File is subject to instant review and complaints can be raised quickly with the FCC.

As Texas stations approach their FCC license renewals in 2021 and 2022, station Public Inspection Files will be subject to serious scrutiny by the FCC and public interest groups.

The FCC said these stations were cited for the timeliness of placing political ad buy information in the online file.

The six group owners have committed to internal reforms and were able to demonstrate they had come into substantial compliance during the first quarter of 2020.

The FCC said the companies will, among other things, implement strict compliance plans at each of their stations and submit detailed compliance reports to the Media Bureau through at least December 2021, confirming all information was timely uploaded to their online political files.

At issue is Section 315(e)(3) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, and Section 73.1943(c) of the commission’s rules which require stations to place information about each request for the purchase of broadcast time for all candidate-sponsored advertisements and certain issue advertisements in their political files for public inspection “as soon as possible.”

The problem for broadcasters is that “as soon as possible” is not specifically defined, but the FCC says, barring any unusual circumstances, it needs to happen quickly.

“These provisions are intended to ensure that the public has timely access to important information about political advertisements, such as the identity of the sponsoring organization,” said the FCC.

“Additionally, it is crucial that stations maintain political files that are complete and up to date because the information in them directly affects, among other things, the statutory rights of opposing candidates to request equal opportunities.”

TAB Legal Guidance
Member stations have no shortage of legal resources to ensure they’re in full compliance with FCC regulations on political broadcasting.

TAB produced a webinar, still archived, covering all such rules in January which was presented by our FCC legal counsel, Scott Flick with the Pillsbury, Winthrop Shaw Pittman. The webinar supplemented TAB’s Guide to Political Broadcasting covers the online Political File requirements in depth and is available for download in the Members section of 

Additionally, TAB’s Political Forms help stations capture all the necessary FCC-required information for political advertising buys. These forms make the online posting of such that much easier.

TAB also notes that David Oxenford, an attorney with TAB Associate member law firm Wilkinson Barker Knauer, wrote an article about the FCC’s political file obligations that broadcasters can review.

Questions? Contact TAB’s Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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