FCC Addresses Noncom Issues at Open Meeting

Commission adopts fundraising, reporting orders

In addition to April being National Pecan Month, National Stress Awareness Month and National Soft Pretzel Month (as noted by Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai), April could be informally considered noncommercial broadcasting’s month, given the adoption of two orders during the FCC’s April 20 Open Meeting.

The commission voted to approve a report and order that would allow some noncommercial education stations to engage in on-air fundraising. Specifically, NCEs would be able to alter or suspend regular programming not funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to assist with fundraising for third-party nonprofit organizations. The caveat: Stations are not permitted to spend more than 1% of their total annual airtime on such activities. Currently, stations are required to request a waiver to engage in such fundraising.

“Today we at the FCC take a small but meaningful step to help [nonprofit] organizations help more Americans,” Pai said. He the change will give stations a better opportunity to reach out to assist in times of emergency. “Minimally relaxing our long-standing third party fundraising restrictions will benefit the public interests by making it easier for noncommercial stations to partner with disaster relief groups and charities to raise funds for worthy causes.”

This change may also enhance the educational nature of NCE stations by raising public awareness about important topics, Pai said.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who supported the order, said that she did have concerns about opening the floodgates to a future where the unique nature of noncommercial educational stations would be degraded. With this concern in mind, she asked that language be included to make abundantly clear that the waiver process only applies to those seeking on-air fundraising for disasters and other singular catastrophic events.

The FCC also took steps to promote diversification of ownership by adopting an order on reconsideration that would allow noncommercial broadcasters greater flexibility when providing personal information about board members. The order will allow these noncoms to use a so-called Special Use FRN for ownership reporting purposes and avoid the need to submit personal information to the commission.

In 2016, a number of NCE broadcasters filed petitions stating that requiring the submission of personal information to the commission would hinder the efforts of stations to recruit qualified volunteers to serve on their licensee boards and would pose other unique challenges for certain noncommercial entities.

The order passed. Though that item was supported by Pai and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, Clyburn dissented; she said the move will make it harder for the commission to gather necessary data on the broadcast media landscape.

“The … American people deserve access to this information, whether it involves a commercial or noncommercial station using the public airwaves,” she said.

 



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