At the first public meeting of the FCC under the leadership of Ajit Pai, the commission voted today to eliminate the requirement that television and radio stations maintain “Letters and Emails from the Public” in their public inspection files.
FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly offered an interesting perspective on station security Tuesday on the FCC’s blog: “The commission’s effort to require online public inspection files for most television and radio broadcast stations (and others) brings with it the opportunity to improve the physical security of broadcast stations. Simply put, once the public is able to view these documents online, there should be no need for public access to broadcast station premises.”
Two years ago, when TV stations were first required to post their local public inspection files online, a number of observers anticipated that the ubiquitous availability of the now-misnamed “local” files would lead to an influx of complaints from non-local parties enjoying easy Internet access to once distant files. Well, the complaints have started.
They prefer the old paper-only filing because of the added expense, time and manpower needed to post online. And they worry who will get this info and what they’ll do with it.
An examination of the market’s TV stations public inspection files shows differences in details available.
The new rules require broadcasters to post their entire public files online, including political ad rates. Broadcasters had objected to posting political rates, arguing that it would interfere with their sales efforts. The new rules apply only to top four affiliates in top 50 markets for the first two years.
An alternative plan to the FCC political file proposal floated by the Television Operators Caucus has gained support of broadcasters who are hoping for a compromise. It would require stations to regularly report who is buying political spots and how much they are paying.
At its April 27 meeting, the FCC is expected to adopt new rules requiring TV stations to post their public inspection files on an FCC-hosted website, according to several agency insiders. And the commission is likely to insist that a station’s political files — records of political advertising bought by candidates and advocacy groups — be electronically converted and uploaded as well.