A Radio Ink Reader asks: “I would like clarification on the Public Issues. We keep a log of each show that airs on our stations and generate a public issues list that identifies issues important to the community within our city of license. But I am now getting conflicting information – some say we have to have the list, others say we do not. I know we need the log of the shows but do we or don’t we have to have an actual list placed in the public file within 10 days of the last quarter?
John Garziglia says: The FCC requires that every three months, a list of programs that have provided the station’s most significant treatment of community issues during the preceding three month period, be put into a station’s local public file.
Significantly, it is not a “log” of programs. Depending upon what is on a “log”, that log may or may not be sufficient for the public file issues/programs list requirement. Rather, for the public file issues/programs list, the FCC requires a brief narrative describing the community issues that were given significant treatment in the station’s programming, and a brief description of the programming that provided the treatment of those issues. In addition to a brief description of the programming, the issues/programs list must include the time, date, duration and title of each program in which each community issue was addressed.
The FCC’s requirement has two elements: (1) the description of the program; and (2) the community issue that the particular program addressed. Thus, merely having a listing of programs in the local public file does not fulfill the second part of the requirement. But, there is no requirement that the issues addressed by the programming be a “list”. Rather, part of the description of each program can state the issue addressed by the programming.
Since the FCC adopted the requirement for issues/programs lists in the local public file, few FCC cases deal directly with the quality or sufficiency of a broadcaster’s issues/programs lists. Rather, the FCC’s issues/programs lists enforcement actions almost all concern a lack of the quarterly issues/programs list, either discovered in an FCC inspection, through a citizen complaint, or at license renewal time.
Even though the FCC rarely penalizes a radio station for an inadequate issues/programs list, that does not mean it cannot happen in the future. Now that we are into the radio license renewal cycle, there very well may be license renewal objections filed to stations that are alleged to have inadequate issues/programs lists as well as the underlying public interest programming, and the station’s license renewal expectancy could depend upon the quality of the issues/programs lists.
In doing a check of your radio station’s compliance with the FCC’s issues/programs list requirements, first confirm that all issues/programs lists from the previous quarter back to the date of the last license renewal are in the file. Next, keep in mind that issues of importance to a particular community may be expected to change over time. Therefore, there should not be the same issues stated quarter after quarter.
Confirm that in addition to a brief description of the programming and issue itself, the issues/programs list includes the time, date, duration and title of each listed program. The FCC has stated in the past that a listing of five to ten of the most significant programs treating discrete community issues in each quarter is likely sufficient.
Finally, keep in mind that the FCC has said that public service announcements alone are insufficient to meet a radio station’s obligation to present programming that meets the needs of the community. Therefore, be sure that the issues/programs lists do not substantially rely upon PSAs or other similar programming.
The important dates to calendar for the issues/programs lists are January 10th, April 10th, July 10th and October 10th. These are the dates by which the issues/programs list for each previous three month quarter must be put into the local public file.
While no one may look at a radio station’s local public file for months or even years, if issues/programming lists are missing or deficient the one time that either an FCC inspector or member of the public does visit, or when the license renewal application question is accurately answered, it will likely result in a substantial fine and could impact the station’s license renewal application. Therefore, it is essential to insure that your radio station’s local public file contains on a timely basis every quarter both a description of community issues, and a description of programming
John F. Garziglia is a Communications Law Attorney with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Washington, DC and can be reached at (202) 857-4455 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a question for our “Ask The Attorney” feature? Send to email@example.com.