There is little ambiguity in the FCC rules that spell out the requirements for commercial broadcast station public inspection files, as well as those that cover the non-commercial stations.
For commercial broadcasters, the FCC Rules Section 73.3526 applies; for non-commercial broadcasters, Section 73.3527 applies.
Yet in the course of performing alternative broadcast inspection program compliance inspections, I rarely come across a file that is complete, orderly and in compliance with the rules.
Keeping in mind that an article is no substitute for legal advice, let’s examine the actual requirements set forth by the rules for the public file of a broadcast facility.
Who is required to maintain a file – Every facility licensee and construction permit applicant for a new broadcast facility is required to maintain a public file.
File location – The file is to be maintained at the station’s main studio. The main studio is the only acceptable location for the public file for an operating broadcast facility.
Public access – Commission policy mandates that the licensee maintain a human presence at the main studio location during normal business hours so any member of the public can access the public inspection file.
Normal business hours typically are an eight-hour period between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. local time, Monday through Friday.
Computer access – All or part of the file may be maintained in a computer database as long as a computer terminal is made available at the location of the file. Material in the file also must be made available, upon an in-person request, for printing or reproduction.
A reasonable charge may be made for such services.
Individual station files – A separate file is to be maintained for each station for which an authorization is outstanding. This means that in communities where the licensee operates more than one station (including an AM/FM combination) a separate file for each station must be maintained.
Station authorization – A copy of the current FCC authorization to construct or operate the station along with any material reflecting a modification to it or placing conditions on an authorization must be available in the file.
In practical terms, this means a complete paper trail of current operating authority must be in the public file: copies of the station’s license, the latest renewal card, documentation changing the station’s call letters and documentation changing the name of the licensee if different than what appears on the license.
Applications – A copy of any application filed with the FCC, along with any related material (exhibits, etc.), are required to be available for as long as they are pending. Any application that is granted conditioned upon a waiver or any renewal application granted for a short term must remain in the file as long as the waiver is in effect or until the next full-term renewal is granted.
Citizen agreements – A copy of written citizen agreements must be available. A citizen agreement is an agreement between a licensee and one or more citizens that deal with goals or proposed practices that affect station operations in the public interest in areas such as – but not limited to – programming and employment.
Agreements must be available for as long as they are in force.
Contour maps – A copy of any service contour maps submitted with any application filed with the FCC must be available and must be retained for as long as it accurately reflects current information. A sales brochure with a coverage map (unless it was the map submitted with the application) does not fulfill this requirement.
Ownership report – Ownership reports are required to be filed with the FCC every other year. A copy of the most recent complete report that accurately reflects ownership of the facility (FCC Form 323 or FCC Form 323E for non-commercial educational stations) must be available in the file.
Political file – The station must keep in the file a complete and orderly record of all requests for broadcast time made by or on behalf of a candidate for public office, together with an appropriate notation showing the disposition of the request and the charges made, if the request is granted.
The term “disposition” includes the schedule of time purchased, when the spots actually aired, the rates charged and the class of time purchased.
If free time is provided for use by or on behalf of a candidate, a record of the time provided must be available in the file. Political information must be placed in the file immediately and retained for a two- year period.
EEOC reports – In January 2001, the U.S. Court of Appeals held that the FCC’s current Equal Employment Opportunity rules were unconstitutional.
Shortly thereafter, the FCC issued an order suspending its EEO record-keeping requirements. Thus this article omits reference to these requirements.
‘The Public and Broadcasting’ – A copy of the latest edition of the FCC manual “The Public and Broadcasting” must be available. This is the June 1999 edition. It is available on the Internet at www.fcc.gov/mmb/asd/welcome.html.
A copy of this manual must be mailed to anyone requesting it. The station pays the postage.
Letters and e-mail from the public – All letters and written comments received from the public regarding the operation of the station must be placed in the file.
Written comments and suggestions include electronic mail sent to an e-mail address that the station publicized or communications addressed to station management.
Exceptions include when the writer requests that it not be placed in the file or when the licensee feels that nature of the comments are obscene or defamatory.
Mail and e-mail addressed to station employees need not be retained in the file. Letters and e-mail must be retained for a three-year period from the date it is received.
FCC investigations or complaints – Any material having a substantial bearing on a matter that is the subject of an FCC investigation or complaint is required to be in the file. Such material must be retained until the FCC advises the licensee that it may be discarded.
Radio issues/program lists – Every three months a list of programs that dealt with the station’s most significant community issues must be prepared and placed in the file. This must be done no later than the 10th day following the close of a calendar quarter.
The list must contain a brief narrative that describes which issues were addressed and which programs provided this treatment. It must at least include the time, date, duration and the title of each program in which the issue was treated. This material must remain in the file until final action is taken on the station’s next renewal application.
Time brokerage, joint sales and local marketing agreements – A copy of every station LMA or time brokerage agreement or contract must be available in the file. In addition, time brokerage or LMAs by any other station’s licensee at your station must be in the file.
A copy of every agreement or contract joint sale of station advertising time, whether between stations in the same market or other markets, must be available in the file.
This information must be retained for as long as the agreement is in force. Confidential or proprietary information regarding LMAs, time brokerage and joint sale of advertising time agreements may be edited for public release.
The rules applicable to the Local Public Inspection File are easy to understand. The information required to be in the file, for the most part, is generated internally at the radio station. It’s a matter of pulling together the required information and documentation and organizing it.