WASHINGTON, DC -- The Federal Communications Commission issued an important reminder to television stations today: the deadline to comply with new public inspection file requirements is approaching. Stations must have all required documents uploaded to the FCC's website by midnight on Monday.
In a public notice issued today, the FCC reminded broadcasters of new rules, which were enacted in August 2012. Since then, TV stations have been required to post most of the new items for their public inspection files online, rather than maintaining paper files at their main studios.
The new rule also requires older documents to be posted online, but the FCC gave stations a six-month grace period to complete the task. That's the February 4th deadline mentioned in today's announcement. But certain items aren't required to be uploaded, as explained in this excerpt:
Except for the items discussed below, public file documents that were already in a station’s public file before August 2, 2012, must be uploaded to the Commission’s site by midnight EST on February 4, 2013.
- Only documents specifically required by the Commission’s public file rules (excluding those noted below) need be uploaded. The rule’s requirement can be found on the Commission’s public inspection file site.
- No station is required to upload political files that were placed in their public file prior to August 2, 2012; however, they are required to maintain those documents at the station, where they must remain until the end of the two-year retention period.
- In addition, stations are not required to upload letters and emails from the public to their online public file; rather, stations must continue to maintain letters and emails in a correspondence file at the main studio.
The FCC says it will have technical support staff on-duty between now and the deadline, but there will be limited assistance available after-hours and over the weekend. As a result, stations are encouraged to finish posting any outstanding documents as soon as possible, so any technical issues can be discovered, reported and resolved before the weekend.
Anyone can view the online contents of a television station's public file by visiting stations.fcc.gov. Stations must make the remainder of the public file available to anyone who visits the station during regular business hours. Citizens can request copies of anything in the public file, but stations have the right to charge a nominal fee to cover duplicating expenses.
Although most stations might argue the files are usually only viewed by political campaign managers checking on the competition, and by college broadcasting students assigned to review the files for class assignments, the FCC also reviews public files when it conducts on-site inspections. If anything's missing or filed improperly, penalties could include fines, and in extreme cases, could jeopardize a station's license renewal.
According to the FCC booklet "Broadcasting and the Public," the files available for inspection must include "documents relevant to the station's operation and dealings with the community and the FCC." That booklet devotes about five full pages to listing all of the material stations must keep in their public file.
As of yet, the requirement to upload public file material to the FCC website only covers full-power and class A television stations. Radio stations and other classes of TV stations can continue to maintain nearly everything on paper, as they have for years. However, every FCC-licensed station with five or more full-time employees is required to post its annual Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) report on its station website, if the station has a website.