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FCC Continues Its Campaign of Political File Settlements

Commission staff apparently has been taking a good hard look at a lot of public files

The Federal Communications Commission continues almost daily to announce new settlements in the form of consent decrees with various U.S. radio broadcast companies that were not complying with the rules about their political files. The number is up to 25 and counting.

You’ll recall that in late July the commission announced consent decrees covering six big-name radio companies. (Read about that here.) We reported subsequently that the commission has been using the same template with a growing list of broadcasters.

More have been posted over the past couple of weeks. A sampling of the most recent includes agreements with Liberty in Christ Jesus Ministry, Sun Broadcasting, Heidelberg Broadcasting, Radio Fiesta, Thornburg Communications and Glades Media.

The basic pattern throughout is that the Audio Division of the Media Bureau suspends consideration of a company’s station license renewals, then determines that the broadcaster hasn’t complied with the political file rules, presumably through analysis of information that stations have posted (or not posted) in its online database.

It then gets the company to agree to a series of compliance steps and reporting. At that point the commission says it won’t investigate further, and lifts the suspension. The agreements don’t involve financial penalties.

The consent decrees all use much the same language, including a historical discussion of the need for political files and a statement that the FCC has taken into consideration the difficulties that radio stations face because of the pandemic.

The rules state that radio stations must maintain records of requests for schedules of ad time from candidates and certain issue advertisers, and of deals resulting from those requests. The records must include what advertising aired, advertising preempted, and the timing of any make-goods, along with other information.

Since March 2018 all radio stations were supposed to be uploading new public and political files to the FCC’s online site. More info about the rules can be found here.