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FCC Pushes Back Comment Deadline on Foreign Sponsorship Proposal

NAB gets wish to extend comment period

The FCC is bending to the wishes of the National Association of Broadcasters and Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) and building in additional comment time on new rules proposed to strengthen the process for identifying governmental entities sponsorship of programming.

The commission on Tuesday said it would extend the comment deadline to Jan. 9, 2023, and bump the reply comment deadline to Jan. 24, 2023. The first comment deadline had originally been set for Dec. 19.

It’s not an unprecedented move by the FCC. Though extensions are not routinely granted, the commission has previously moved comment deadlines near and around holiday periods when asked to do so by interested parties.  

In October, the FCC set forth a Second Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to further regulate foreign-sponsored programming on U.S. radio and television requiring deeper background verifications by broadcasters of programming it airs. Broadcasters are already required by the 1934 Communications Act to declare who paid and furnished programming of any sponsored program.  

[Related: “FCC Proposes Modifications to Foreign ID Requirements“]

A federal appeals court in July tossed the FCC’s first try at adopting new disclosure requirements, saying the FCC went too far and had no authority to impose a verification requirement, but stopped short of deciding the First Amendment claims raised by NAB. 

The latest proposal seeks comment on a first-of-its kind requirement that broadcasters and lessees make certifications of compliance using FCC-specified language. The FCC wants broadcasters to gather more information on programming suppliers partly due to increased concerns the Chinese and Russian governments have stepped up efforts to broadcast propaganda on U.S. stations. 

The FCC is also looking at an alternative approach raised as a hypothetical by the D.C. Circuit Court, that if a lessee states it isn’t a foreign government entity a station would be required to obtain evidence from the lessee, like a screen shot, showing that the lessee’s name does not appear on either of the two federal databases that are cited as reference points by the FCC. 

The NAB had asked the FCC for an extension to gain additional feedback from broadcasters. 

“We are attempting to assist the commission by quantifying the effects of broadcasters having to develop and implement an additional round of compliance systems that would now incorporate FCC-specified language at lease inception and renewal,” NAB told the FCC last week.

In addition to impacting broadcasters directly, the proposed rules also will affect lessees, NAB said, who are “a diverse group of thousands of entities including houses of worship, small businesses promoting their products and services…,” the group said. NAB says it is trying to obtain feedback from air time lessees.

NAB’s request for an extension concluded: “(Since) the FCC’s foreign sponsorship disclosure rules are still in place, and thus there is little or no impact to the public interest if the requested brief extension is granted.”

Comments on MB Docket 20-299 can be filed using the commission’s online system.