Local Public Files: Their Contents, and Retention. Refocus Refresh and Clean House!

By Gregg P. Skall
Telecommunications Law Professionals PLLC

We’re now deep into the radio and television renewal cycles and learning a few things about the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the public inspection file of many broadcasters.  Staff shortages brought about by the pandemic have compounded normal staff turnover and retraining problems.  For many stations this had consequences for keeping their regular political and scheduled Issues-Programs public file entries up to date.  The result has been a record number of consent decrees accompanying license renewals that include new required training and reporting on political and public file requirements.  With many stations bringing on new staff as we emerge from Covid, it is time for a refresher.

For those who have been doing this for a while, the items that are automatically uploaded to the file by the FCC, are listed first and as a separate but category.  It’s important to note, however, that while the FCC should automatically place a copy of these items in the correct folder of the station’s online public file for the station, you should always check to make certain it has been done.  The Commission has stated that the ultimate responsibility for a current public file remains on the licensee.

For stations that have had their FCC license renewed in the current round, it is time to clean out the files.  Note the retention period for each category and clean out the old items no longer required to be retained.

THE MATERIALS THAT NOW ARE UPLOADED BY THE FCC

  • FCC Authorizations: Those documents issued by the Commission that authorize broadcasting or other use of radio transmissions including licenses and construction permits.
    • §73.3526(e)(1), §73.3527(e)(1)
    • Retention Period: until replaced.
  • Applications and related materials: Examples include broadcast licenses, construction permits, special operating authority, or consent to the sale of an existing broadcast facility.
    • §73.3526(e)(2), §73.3527(e)(2)
    • Retention Period: Until final action has been taken on the application, except that applications for which waivers have been granted must be retained for as long as the waiver is in effect, and short term renewals must be retained until final action has been taken on the next renewal.
  • Contour Maps: Graphical representations or “maps” of the station predicted service contours.
    • §73.3526(e)(4), §73.3527(e)(3)
    • Retention Period: for as long as they are current, accurate, and reflect current information regarding the station’s operation.
  • Ownership reports and related materials: Biennial reports that are filed every other year and also in connection with the sale of a broadcast station.  They reflect what entities and individuals hold “attributable” interests in a broadcast station (i.e., interests the Commission deems convey some influence over the station).
    • §73.3526(e)(5), §73.3527(e)(4)
    • Retention Period: until a new, complete ownership report is filed with the FCC.
  • The Public and Broadcasting – A Procedure Manual: This pamphlet, written by the Commission, explains the various aspects and purposes of the broadcast service, FCC regulations, and broadcast licensee obligations. It also explains how the public can participate in the Commission’s licensing and other administrative processes involving their local broadcast stations.
    • §73.3526(e)(8), §73.3527(e)(7)
    • Retention Period: the most recent version, indefinitely.
  • Children’s television programming reports: Commercial television stations must prepare and place in their public inspection files a report (Form 2100, Schedule H) each calendar year that identifies the educational and informational programming for children that they aired.
    • §73.3526(e)(11)(iii)
    • Retention Period: until final action taken on the station’s next license renewal application.

MATERIALS THAT MUST BE UPLOADED BY STATIONS

  • Citizen agreements: Agreements between commercial stations and citizen groups, primarily for noncommercial purposes, that directly or indirectly deal with the station’s broadcast service to their communities.
    • §73.3526(e)(3)
    • Retention Period: for term of agreement.
  • Issues/Programs lists:Quarterly lists prepared by stations of programs they aired during the preceding quarter that provided the station’s most significant treatment of community issues.  They must include a brief narrative of the issue and the time, date, duration, and title of each program.
    • Due January 10, April 10, July 10 and October 10 of each year.
    • 73.3526(e)(11)(i), §73.3526(e)(12), §73.3527(e)(8)
    • Retention Period: until final action taken on the station’s next license renewal application.
  • Political file: All requests for specific schedules of advertising time by candidates and certain issue advertisers, including lists of all sponsored material that mentions a Political Matter of National Importance, a National Legislative Issue of Public Importance, any Legally Qualified Candidate or any election to Federal office.  All should include the final dispositions or “deals” agreed to by the broadcaster and the advertiser in response to any requests, including the class and schedule of time purchased, the rates charged, when the political time was actually broadcast, and the name of the candidate.  Also, if applicable, the candidate’s authorized committee and its treasurer or the issue ad  sponsor information. Although it is not necessary to retain any of the materials relating to the negotiation between the parties to reach the disposition, the file must also include the timing of any make-goods of preempted time, as well as credits or rebates provided the advertiser.  The request and disposition must be placed in the file as soon as possible, which the Commission has determined is immediately absent extraordinary circumstances. The reconciliation information does not need to be placed in the file immediately, but the broadcaster must identify a person or persons at the station capable of informing an advertiser of the details of any reconciliation information.
    • §73.3526(e)(6), §73.3527(e)(5), §73.1943, §73.1212(e)
    • Retention Period: for two years.
  • Material relating to FCC investigations and complaints: Material that has a substantial bearing on an FCC investigation or complaint to the FCC involving the station and of which the station is aware.  Material may be excluded from the public file at the Commission’s direction (e.g., Letters of Inquiry from the Enforcement Bureau should be excluded in order to protect the investigation process).
    • 73.3526(e)(10), §73.3527(e)(11)
    • Retention Period: until notified in writing that the material may be discarded.
  • Equal Employment Opportunity file: All stations in Employment Units with five or more full-time employees, each year on the anniversary date for filing their license renewal application date, a report that includes:
    • (i) a list of all full-time vacancies by job title; (ii) recruitment sources used to fill each vacancy identified by name, address, contact person and telephone number; (iii) the recruitment source that referred the hiree for each full-time vacancy; (iv) the total number of persons interviewed for full-time vacancies and total number of interviewees referred by each recruitment source; and (v) a list and description of EEO supplemental outreach initiatives.
    • Note: You MUST keep backup documents for each such event in a private file. The current year’s report must also be posted on the station’s web site, if any.
    • An FCC Form 396 – an EEO Program Report that is filed with the FCC as part of the station’s license renewal application.
    • §73.3526(e)(7), §73.3527(e)(6), §73.2080(c)(6)
    • Retention Period: until final action taken on the station’s next license renewal application.
  • Time Brokerage Agreements or Local Marketing Agreements (“TBAs” or “LMAs”): Contracts or agreements that allow one or more parties other than the station licensee to provide programming, sell advertising time in the brokered programming or otherwise operate the station on a day-to-day basis.  Confidential or proprietary information may be redacted from these documents.
    • §73.3526(e)(14)
    • Retention Period: for as long as contract or agreement in force.
  • Joint Sales Agreements: Contracts or agreements that allow one or more parties other than the station licensee to sell advertising time on the station.  Confidential or proprietary information may be redacted from these documents.
    • 73.3526(e)(16)
    • Retention Period: for as long as contract or agreement in force.
  • Shared Service Agreements:  Contracts or agreements for one station to provide station-related services to another station or for multiple stations to collaborate to provide such services.  Station-related services include, but are not limited to, administrative, technical, sales, and/or programming support. Confidential or proprietary information may be redacted from these documents.
    • 73.3526(e)(18)
    • Retention Period: as long as contract or agreement in force.
  • Must-Carry or retransmission consent elections: Statements of a station’s election to be carried on multichannel video program distributor (MVPD) systems, such as cable systems or direct broadcast satellite services, either by negotiated retransmission consent agreements or by mandatory carriage under the Commission’s rules.
    • Applies to commercial television stations or must-carry requests for noncommercial television stations.
    • 73.3526(e)(15), §73.3527(e)(12)
    • Retention Period: for duration of election or request period.
  • Class A TV continuing eligibility documentation: Documents that substantiate the continuing eligibility of a low-power television station for Class A status, which affords the station the same interference protection as a full power television station. A Class A station must broadcast at least 18 hours per day, and air at least three hours per week of locally produced programming.
    • 73.3526(e)(17), §73.6001
    • Retention Period: indefinitely.
  • Local public notice certifications and announcements: Certification that the full-service broadcast station has made the necessary public on-air announcements following the filing of its application for renewal of its broadcast license.
    • 73.3526(e)(13), §73.3527(e)(10)
    • Retention Period: for as long as the application to which it refers remains pending.
  • Information on third-party fundraising by NCE stations: Information regarding the fundraiser, including the date, time, and duration of the fundraiser and name of the non-profit organization that benefitted.
    • 73.3527(e)(14) NCE stations that interrupt regular programming to conduct fundraising on behalf of a third-party non-profit organization pursuant to §73.503(e) (FM stations) or §73.621(f) (TV stations)
  • Website Link and Contact Persons: On the station’s website (if any), a home page link to the station’s Online Public Inspection File, and contact information for a station representative that can assist a person with disabilities.  In the station’s Online Public File, the station’s current address and telephone number, and the email address of the station’s designated contact for questions about the public file.
    • §73.3526(b)(2)(ii), §73.3527(b)(2)(ii)
    • Retention Period: No expiration date

This column is provided for general information purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice pertaining to any specific factual situation. Legal decisions should be made only after proper consultation with a legal professional of your choosing.

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