Look Before You Leak

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I was a little confused by the GAO report hammering the FCC–OK, it was a rubber hammer but it still hurt–for leaking nonpublic information to some lobbyists and not others.

The report cited leaks about when certain agenda items were going to be voted, saying they violated FCC rules, though it seems to me that most people, including us ink-stained scribes, get an early inkling of what is going down.

But beyond that, there are the FCC rules in question, which seem at least on first reading, to allow exactly what the GAO said was a violation.

"Situations where some, but not all, stakeholders know what FCC is considering for an upcoming vote undermine the fairness and transparency of the process and constitute a violation of FCC’s rules," said the GAO report.

But according to section 19.735.203 of the FCC rules, which deals with not leaking nonpublic information, "[t]his section does not prohibit the disclosure of an official Commission

meeting agenda listing titles and summaries of items for discussion at an open Commission meeting. Also, this section does not prohibit the disclosure of information about the scheduling of Commission agenda items."

The study’s author says he understands how the two could seem to be conflicting, but says that the FCC staffers he talked to all read the above provision as requiring the chairman’s authorization, which GAO said it had no evidence the chairman ever gave.

As one wise man once said, the rules are all in the interpretation. For example, the FCC rules clearly state that cable-originated programming is subject to the FCC’s equal time rules, which allow qualified federal candidates to request airtime when their opponents get airtime for other than news and documentary coverage.

But no cable system has ever been required to provide equal time says communications lawyer who deals in thate area, and noone has quite figured out what cable origination is.

The FCC might have provided some insight, however, having recently identifed video news releases on a Comcast regional news channel as cable-originated programming subject to its sponsorship identification rules and to fines for violating them.

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