TV stations in markets outside of the Top 50, and stations in the Top 50 markets that are not affiliated with one of the Big 4 networks, need to begin to upload new material placed into their political files into their Online Public File as of July 1 – just a few weeks away. David O’Connor of my firm and I conducted a webinar for television broadcasters from 7 states last week, where we discussed this new obligation for smaller TV stations, and talked about what documents are supposed to go into the political file. We also reviewed the content of the NAB forms that are helpful in tracking the documentation that needs to go into the political file. The slides from that presentation are available here.
As we wrote in April, the FCC has already reminded broadcasters of this new obligation as of July 1, and there does not appear to be any potential that the obligation will be changed between now and the July 1 effective date. Broadcasters need not upload political file contents that were placed into the file before July 1 (they should continue to be kept in the station’s paper file for the two-year required holding period). But, starting on July 1, all new political file documents need to be placed into the station’s Online Public file accessible through the FCC website.In hte webinar, we also discussed the recent FCC complaints filed against stations in the Top 50 markets, alleging that their online public files were not complete. We summarized those complaints, and the FCC reactions to those complaints, here and here. The complaints demonstrate that the compliance of broadcasters is being monitored. So be sure that you are ready to start uploading political file materials to your online public file as of July 1.
One question did come up after the webinar about the retention of the paper file after the July 1 deadline. What we were saying in the webinar is that the documents that were in the paper political file before the July 1 deadline don’t need to be digitized and put online. They only need to be kept in their current form in a residual paper file for two years from the date they were created. For the post-July 1 documents, they only need to be online. No residual paper file needs to be kept for the post-July 1 documents. However, recognizing that there is an immediate need for candidates to be able to review these files in some cases, stations need to be sure that there is some backup electronic version of the online political file just in case the FCC site goes down. See our Q and A on the online public file generally, here, which discusses the obligations for back-up files. Our Political Broadcasting Guide to the FCC’s political rules and policies can be found here.
So small stations need to get ready to meet this important deadline, as their files may well be watched!