The public file is a an actual file of paper documents that every broadcast station is required to maintain in its main office. In it are records like a copy of the station’s license and ownership report, along with a quarterly Issues and Programming report which is supposed to detail public service programming. Although very few people realize it, every citizen has the right to ask to inspect a station’s public file during normal business hours.
As John Anderson reported earlier this year, the FCC is considering the future of the public file in response to the Paperwork Reduction Act. In 2007 the FCC actually adopted rules to require television broadcasters to maintain an online public file with greater detail on public service programming. But these rules never went into effect.
At its October open meeting [agenda PDF] the Commission is scheduled to take up the issue of online public files for television stations again. Officially the item will be an “an Order on Reconsideration of the 2007 Enhanced Disclosure Report and Order and a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.”
In a recent post to the firm’s Broadcast Law Blog, David Oxford from the law office of Davis Wright Tremaine says that there are signs the FCC sees “‘renewed interest’ in the questions of the public interest standards that should be applicable to broadcasters,” and guesses that the Commission will probably move towards some kind of online public file requirement, possibly with the documents hosted by the FCC.
What happens for television is likely to happen for radio. However, it’s likely all broadcasters will kick and scream about the supposed burden of maintaining public file documentation. As someone who actually maintains a public file I can say that it does not come close to requiring a whole extra employee as some critics have complained. And as a supporter of public service requirements, I would welcome clearer standards for what counts as public service and instructions for properly documenting it.
I will certainly be watching next week’s FCC meeting and will follow up here.
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