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FCC Scraps Paper Filings of Broadcast Contracts

Move is the commission's latest effort to whack regulatory weeds

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously Tuesday (Oct. 23) to eliminate the requirement that broadcasters — TV and radio — file paper versions of certain contracts with the FCC. But the FCC also took steps to make sure online versions of the documents were timely filed and available for perusal by the public.

It is the 13th initiative in FCC Chair Ajit Pai’s “media modernization” effort to eliminate or streamlining FCC rules, his so-called “weed whacking” of the regulatory underbrush.

Currently broadcasters must file paper copies of network affiliation contracts, certain time brokerage and joint sales agreements and others with the FCC, dating back to a 1939 requirement, Pai pointed out at the FCC’s public meeting, where the vote was held.Broadcasters must either upload the contracts online, or provide a list of them, and if a member of the public wants to see a copy, the broadcaster must produce it within seven days.

Pai has said virtually no one wants to see the documents.

The National Association of Broadcasters backed the move and praised the vote.

“NAB appreciates the Commission’s continued efforts to modernize outdated regulatory burdens on local TV and radio stations,” said NAB EVP Dennis Wharton. “Eliminating the paper filing requirement is a common-sense update to broadcast regulations.”

Actually, cable operators had more to say about the decision, mostly about what the item still required broadcasters to do.

“ACA applauds the FCC for taking steps to require greater broadcaster disclosure online with respect to certain contracts that they must make available to the public,” said American Cable Association president Matt Polka. “We are particularly pleased that the FCC adopted an ACA-backed proposal that broadcast stations be required to update their online inventory of required documents within 30 days of executing any new contract.”

“With Sinclair recently trying to sell ‘sham’ divestitures to the FCC and the public [a reference to the Tribune deal spin-offs that FCC had issues with], it’s as important as ever that contracts that relate to broadcast ownership and the control of stations remain accessible to the public.“

ACA is also pleased the FCC made clear broadcasters will not get away with over-redacting these contracts when handing them over to the public The FCC clarified that broadcasters must leave non-confidential and non-proprietary information unredacted in any contracts they make available to the public, and that they are prohibited from providing different redactions to different parties requesting them. The FCC also properly made clear that parties may challenge redactions by broadcasters, and that such challenges will be resolved in a timely manner.”