By October 10, 2016, all radio and television broadcast stations, both commercial and noncommercial, must prepare a list of important issues facing their communities of license, and the programs aired during July, August and September dealing with those issues. TV stations and radio stations in the top 50 markets with five or more full-time employees must post these documents to the FCC’s online public file database. All other radio stations must place these documents in their local public inspection files. (Those other radio stations have until March 1, 2018 to begin uploading documents to the FCC’s online public file database.)
Also by October 10, all commercial full power and Class A TV stations must prepare and file the Children's Programming Report on FCC Form 398 for the third quarter of 2016, and post online documentation demonstrating compliance with the limits on commercial matter aired during children's programming.
As a reminder, the FCC migrated to a new online public inspection file database (“OPIF”) this year, although it is still accessed through the same link as the prior database. Although cable TV systems do not have any specific quarterly public file requirements, cable systems with more than 1000 subscribers must also upload any “new” public file documents to OPIF, except for political file documents that must be uploaded only by systems with more than 5000 subs. The cable public file documents would include those showing compliance with commercial limits in children’s programming, as described below.
I. Issues/Programs Lists
All broadcast radio and TV stations must prepare Issues/Programs lists within ten days after the end of each quarter. The quarterly Issues/Programs list is station specific and, therefore, each station should have its own list, describing programming broadcast on that station addressing issues of importance to its viewers or listeners.
The quarterly Issues/Programs list should reflect the “station's most significant programming treatment of community issues.” Thus, a station needs to identify issues of importance to its community of license that it has determined to be of significance during that quarter, and the programming that was responsive to those issues. In the past, the FCC had mandated identification of 5 to 10 issues per quarter. While the FCC no longer requires a specific number of issues, that range remains a good target.
Although stations have discretion in deciding the specific programs that address the identified issues, all stations must broadcast some programming that does so. Each program must be identified, including the title and length of the program, as well as the time and date on which it was aired. The description should include a brief summary of the contents of the program, sufficient to demonstrate how the program addressed the identified issue. Failure to have a complete and timely set of quarterly Issues/Programs lists can lead to significant fines at license renewal time or following an FCC inspection.
II. Children's TV Programming Reports
Also within ten days after the end of each quarter, all commercial full power and Class A TV stations must prepare and file a Children's Programming Report on FCC Form 398. For the third quarter of 2016, Form 398 must be filed electronically at the FCC by October 10, 2016. TV stations need not keep these Reports in their local public files since the Reports will be publicly available online at OPIF.
Stations are also reminded to periodically publicize the existence and location of the quarterly Children's Programming Reports. While there is no prescribed language or manner for informing the community about these Reports, we suggest airing a monthly spot announcing that the station prepares and files FCC Form 398 with the FCC on a quarterly basis, which reports on the station's children's programming efforts during the previous quarter. These announcements should inform viewers that the reports are available for review on the FCC's website. Posting the report or a link to the station’s OPIF on the station's own website is also a good way to publicize the existence of the Children's Programming Reports.
Under the Commission's current license renewal guidelines, stations are required to air an average of at least three (3.0) hours of core children's programming per week and per digital stream during each calendar quarter. In general, core children's television programming is defined as programming that is (1) designed to meet the educational and informational needs of children aged 16 years or younger as one of its significant purposes; (2) at least 30 minutes in length; (3) identified throughout the program with the educational/informational (E/I) symbol; (4) aired weekly at a regularly scheduled time between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.; and (5) identified at the time of airing and to program guide publishers as being “core programming” designed for a specific age range of children.
The amount of children's programming required for multicast DTV streams increases in proportion to the additional hours of free programming offered on the multicast channels, up to three additional hours per week for each multicast stream. Specifically, for every 28 hours, or portion thereof, of free video programming per week provided on a digital stream, the station is required to provide an additional 0.5 hours of children's programming, up to a maximum of three hours per week. The maximum (3 hours per week) would be required for a station providing a 24-hour programming stream, seven days a week. This requirement applies to each additional free digital programming stream, although all of the children’s programming can be provided on the station’s primary channel, if desired.
Stations are also reminded to provide the required on-air identification of core programs that are specifically designed to educate and inform children. Thus, at the beginning of each core children's program, stations should announce that the upcoming program satisfies the Commission's core children's programming requirements. Core children's programming must also contain the E/I symbol or “bug” superimposed on the program to identify the program as meeting the educational and informational needs of children. The current Form 398 includes a certification that the E/I symbol was included during each core program.
Stations have been fined for insufficient documentation showing compliance with the children's rules or for missing documentation for any quarters during the license term. In the past, the FCC has also issued many “show cause” orders, proposing to downgrade the status of Class A TV stations for noncompliance with these requirements. Accordingly, stations would be well advised to prepare and post all quarterly forms and certifications required by the Commission's rules.
III. Commercial limits
In addition to broadcasting programming responsive to the educational and informational needs of children, the FCC's rules limit the amount of commercial material that can be aired during programming aimed at children aged 12 and under. Specifically, the rules state that “no commercial television broadcast station licensee shall air more than 10.5 minutes of commercial matter per hour during children's programming on weekends, or more than 12 minutes of commercial matter per hour on weekdays.” These limits also apply to cable systems that run children’s programming. In order to demonstrate compliance with this rule, TV stations must prepare a proof of compliance with the commercial limits and post this information to their online public inspection file by the tenth day of the month following the end of the calendar quarter. For the third quarter of 2016, the proof of compliance with the children's TV commercial limits must be posted online by October 10, 2016.
There is no specific form for this purpose. Stations may keep program logs demonstrating compliance with the commercial limits, but if the logs are intended to satisfy the documentation requirement they must be posted online as well. Stations may also keep tapes sufficient to demonstrate compliance, and must make the tapes available for review upon request by a member of the public. Alternatively, stations may maintain lists of the number of commercial minutes per hour aired during children's programs, including a detailed listing of any overages. Many networks and syndicators that provide children’s programming will also provide certifications that their programs comply with the commercial limits. Such lists should be reviewed routinely by the station or program manager to ensure accuracy. The commercial limits on children’s programming apply to cable operators as well, who must also keep records verifying compliance with those limits, even though cable operators have no affirmative obligation to run children’s programming or to provide quarterly proof of compliance.
Note: While children's programming is required to serve the educational and informational needs of children up to 16 years of age, the commercial limits apply only to programs produced and broadcast or cablecast primarily for an audience of children aged 12 and under.
IV. Special rules for Class A TV stations
In addition to all of the requirements discussed above, the FCC requires that Class A TV stations maintain information in their (now online) public files sufficient to demonstrate their continuing eligibility for Class A status, i.e., that they are on air at least 18 hours per day, that they have broadcast at least three hours per week of locally produced programming, and that they have otherwise observed the rules that apply to full power TV stations. While the FCC does not require that this report on continued eligibility be done quarterly, preparation of the quarterly Issues/Programs list and Children’s Programming Report may be a good time to prepare this documentation as well.