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NAB and Others Sue FCC Over Foreign ID

MMTC and NABOB join lawsuit against a new commission rule

Several leading U.S. media organizations are bringing suit against the FCC for requiring disclosures of programming sponsored by foreign governments.

“The National Association of Broadcasters, the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters today filed a petition for review with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit challenging a Federal Communications Commission order mandating disclosures for foreign government-sponsored programming,” they announced.

As we reported in April, the FCC unanimously enacted this new rule in April. When a broadcaster leases time, it now needs to ask the “lessee” if they or their programming are from a foreign governmental entity.

“If the answer is yes, a sponsorship identification will need to be placed on air and documented in the station’s public file,” Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel explained in April. “If the answer is no, a broadcaster will need to independently verify the lessee using the Foreign Agent Registration Act website from the Department of Justice and the FCC’s semi-annual foreign media outlet reports.”

The FCC believes that foreign governmental entities are increasingly purchasing time on domestic broadcast stations. “We know that foreign entities are purchasing time on broadcast stations in markets across the country, including Chinese government-sponsored programming and Russian government-sponsored programming right here in our nation’s capital,” Rosenworcel has said. She credited Rep. Anna Eshoo for pushing the FCC to take this action, which Rosenworcel said is “about national security and the preservation of our democratic values.”

But the three media organizations say they are “deeply concerned with the FCC’s misguided attempt to develop uniform rules for disclosing foreign government-sponsored programming.”

They said the decision to require broadcasters to investigate the source of leased programming “exceeds its statutory authority, is arbitrary and capricious and violates the First Amendment.”

They said broadcasters strongly oppose foreign interference in U.S. elections “but the commission’s order fails to even address this core objective. We look forward to presenting our case in court.”

NAB had already told the commission that the rule is overly burdensome because it requires every broadcaster to conduct research on all the entities with whom they have or want to have lease agreements.

The groups say the rule will particularly hit smaller broadcasters “including stations owned by women and people of color, and new entrants seeking to gain experience through leasing arrangements.” And they said these new determinations would be required even if the programming, “such as an infomercial or local religious broadcast) poses no colorable risk of foreign sponsorship.”

“Broadcasters would also need to conduct inquiries and investigations at the time any lease is initially entered into and repeat them every time that same lease (with the same, already-investigated party) is renewed. Stations also must memorialize those inquiries and investigations and maintain that documentation,” they argue.

And, they added, these regulations affect only broadcasters, even though failure to identify a foreign government source of programming “is almost entirely associated with satellite and cable channels and, above all, with social media and the internet.”

[Read the petition from NAB, MMTC and NABOB.]


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