Fracas Over New FCC Disclosure Rules

Stations forced to file detailed info about news, public affairs programs

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) filed suit last week against the FCC over the commission's decision to require broadcasters to put their public inspection files online.

The agency will require stations to provide the government with more specific information on their programming in a range of areas, including news, public affairs and the amount of independently produced programming that stations air.

Independent programmers are a big issue in Hollywood because TV networks and the studios they own fear the FCC may accuse them of eliminating competition by not giving indies a place on their schedules.

Broadcasters have First Amendment concerns as well, claiming smaller stations would be burdened by additional reporting.

The new disclosure requirements were adopted Dec. 18 as part of several votes to try to wrap up the FCC's media ownership rule review.

The requirements include, among other things, a list of “all local news program segments dealing with community issues.”


The NAB said in a statement Friday that broadcasters had “no quarrel” with serving the public interest, but that broadcasters are concerned about the scale and scope of the new rules and the burden they could put on stations, particularly smaller stations that don't have the staff necessary to keep a stations' public files up to date and online.

“[We] would submit that the impact of these regulations would negatively impact the ability of many broadcasters to continue to serve our communities,” it said in announcing the suit, which was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit.

The NAB said the FCC's decision was arbitrary and capricious, but those words can't hurt the FCC much anymore. In several suits recently, the FCC has been taken to task for what its critics see as the FCC making much ado about what seems to be nothing much. The NAB asked the court to set aside the FCC's rule.

Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell shares broadcasters' concerns about the decision, which he dissented from in part. McDowell is also troubled by the standardized form, and he has called it “the government's not-so-subtle attempt to exert pressure on stations to air certain types of content. I cannot aid and abet even a small step toward such a goal.”