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Friday, May 19, 2006

Local Public File Rules Outdated?

The Commission, by a May 19, 2006 Public Notice, is asking for comments on a Petition for Rulemaking as to whether the present local public file rules are outdated. Comments may be filed through June 19, 2006 via the FCC's electronic filing system (ECFS).

In particular, the Petition for Rulemaking questions whether the present local public file requirements have any current utility, noting the questionable benefits of the requirements to prepare and keep in the local public file items including issues/programs lists, current authorizations, citizen's agreements, contour maps, equal employment information, letters and emails from the public, the FCC's procedural manual, time brokerage and joint sales agreements, children's television reports and LPTV Class A eligibility documentation. The only documents that the petitioner suggests should remain a part of the local public file are those encompassed by the political file requirements.

As most broadcasters will acknowledge, it is not often that members of the public make a request to inspect a broadcast station's local public file. Nonetheless, as with all proposed changes in regulations, broadcasters need to ask whether a proceeding looking to change the public file rules might result in greater, rather than fewer, record keeping requirements.

The Commission in a 2004 Notice of Inquiry Regarding Broadcast Localism, which is yet to be acted upon, hinted at significant new record-keeping requirements, as well as possible new public interest obligations, to promote localism. Some of the questions asked were:
  • What qualifies as "local" programming?
  • Are public service announcement requests being denied?
  • Should broadcasters be required to air a minimum amount of local or national political and civic discourse?
  • In what ways should broadcasters be required to serve all significant segments of their communities?
  • Is voice-tracking in the public interest?
  • Do national music playlists diminish localism?
  • Should the Commission conduct audits of local public files?
  • Should LPFM be further promoted?

While the local public file Petition for Rulemaking only addresses whether the local public file rules should remain in place, that issue is necessarily intertwined with the larger question of just what public interest regulations should be imposed upon broadcast stations. Broadcasters may find that the public thinks that there are not enough regulations rather than too many, and asks the FCC to put into place requirements that are more, rather than less, burdensome than the current local public file rules.

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