FCC Tightens Disclosure Rules for Foreign-Sponsored Airtime


The FCC has voted 3-2 to introduce new rules that mandate broadcasters verify that airtime lessees are not affiliated with foreign governments. This move comes after a previous set of regulations was overturned by a federal appeals court in July 2022.

Under the new guidelines, broadcasters have two methods to demonstrate compliance without engaging in extensive investigations, a requirement that had led to the previous rules being vacated.

The updated rules stipulate that radio and television stations must clearly disclose any programming sponsored by foreign governments, a requirement initially emphasized in an April 2021 order particularly targeting Sputnik, the Voice of Russia’s English service. The rule adjustment specifically addresses issues raised by a 2022 ruling from the DC Circuit, which necessitated a reevaluation of certain identification requirements from the 2021 order.

Broadcasters can use a standardized certification provided by the FCC or have the lessee display search results from checks done on specific federal government websites. These checks are required to be performed annually if the programming remains constant.

Additionally, the FCC has decided to exempt commercial goods and services advertisements from these rules, aligning with broadcaster requests. However, the rules will still apply to issue advertisements and paid public service announcements but not to political ads. Notably, there is no exemption for religious programming, which the FCC believes could conflict with its goals of transparency regarding foreign content.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel commented, “The principle that the public has a right to know the identity of those who use the public airwaves is a long-standing tenet of broadcasting … we clarify our rules for broadcasters by establishing a process to inform consumers when what they hear or see over the air has been provided by a foreign government. Our action today is about supporting transparency and democratic values.”

Dissenting opinions came from Republican Commissioners Nathan Simington and Brendan Carr, who criticized the scope and implications of the new rules.

Simington in particular vehemently disagreed with the broad interpretation applied to airtime leasing for foreign sponsorship identification, saying, “Letting Americans know when a foreign government has leased time on American airwaves is a good thing. That’s why I voted to approve the Commission’s first cut at these rules back in 2021. In the implementing Report and Order, we indicated that: ‘In describing a lease of time, however, we do not mean to suggest that traditional, short-form advertising time constitutes a lease of airtime for [the purposes of foreign sponsorship identification].'”

“Ha-ha. Just kidding. Apparently, according to today’s decision, not only yes, we did mean that traditional, short-form advertising constitutes a ‘lease of airtime’ for these purposes, but regulatees knew that we meant that they did when they asked us to clarify the bounds of the exemption. (By now, “clarify” is the Commission’s euphemism for doing whatever it wants, precedent be damned.)”

With reporting by Adam Jacobson


  1. Another attempt by this administration to trample on our constitutional rights.
    What the Commission means by “lessee” is not what we understand the term to include.
    Radio Sputnik is an LMA, the licensee has a management employee making sure the lights are on, but the 24/7 programing comes from Russia Today.
    What the Commission has swept under this umbrella is any kind of paid programing, except for the exceptions noted in the article. So if the First Baptist Church airs their Sunday service on your station, you must get that certification that they are not an arm of the Albanian government. If the local school board buys time urging voters to renew the school bond levy–they must show that they are not Estonian agents. Catholic mass on the air? Well, technically the Diocese IS an arm of a foreign power, the Vatican.


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