Davis Wright Tremaine LLP

By October 10, 2020, 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. All TV stations and radio stations must post these documents to the FCC’s online public file database.

Additionally, radio and television broadcast stations are reminded to keep complete and orderly records in their Political File of all requests for broadcast time made by or on behalf of a candidate for public office. The FCC’s online public inspection file database (OPIF) may be accessed through this link.

Issues/Programs Lists

All radio and TV broadcast stations must prepare Issues/Programs lists within 10 days after the end of each quarter. The quarterly Issues/Programs list is station-specific, 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 five to 10 issues per quarter. While the FCC no longer requires identification of a specific number of issues, that range remains a good target.

Although broadcasters 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. Even stations that are off the air pursuant to Special Temporary Authority from the FCC must still prepare an Issues/Programs list stating as such (if off air for the entire quarter), or provide a list of programs for that portion of the quarter during which they were broadcasting.

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 (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.

Repacking Transition Progress Report

Except in certain situations described here, full-power and Class A TV Stations repacked by the incentive auction have a quarterly obligation to file a Repacking Transition Progress Report (FCC Form 2100—Schedule 387) by October 10, 2020, informing the FCC (and the public) of steps that they have taken to implement the channel change, assuming the station has not already been licensed on its new channel.

In addition to the quarterly reports, repacked stations must also file Transition Progress Reports (1) 10 weeks prior to their construction deadline; (2) 10 days after construction is complete; and (3) five days after ceasing operation on their pre-auction channel.

Online Political Files 

In addition to the quarterly public file obligation referenced above, we remind broadcast licensees that the Communications Act and FCC rules require stations to maintain and make available for public inspection information about all requests for broadcast time made: (1) by or on behalf of candidates for public office; and (2) by an issue advertiser whose advertisement communicates a message relating to a political matter of national importance. Stations are to upload such information to their online political files “as soon as possible.”

The FCC has interpreted "as soon as possible" to mean "immediately absent unusual circumstances." Stations should note that the FCC’s Media Bureau has entered into several Consent Decrees with stations for failure to comply with the FCC’s Political File obligations and that failure to comply can pose challenges at the time of license renewal.

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