FCC Reminds Broadcasters of Sponsorship ID and Public File Obligations

Alerts / March 17, 2021

In an unusual move, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) Enforcement Bureau released an Enforcement Advisory to remind broadcasters of their sponsorship identification obligations. The same day, the Media Bureau issued a reminder to commercial broadcasters of the requirement to upload time brokerage agreements (TBAs), joint sales agreements (JSAs) and shared services agreements (SSAs) to their online public inspection files (OPIFs).

Sponsorship Identification

Under the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (the Act), and the Commission’s sponsorship identification rules (collectively, the Sponsorship ID Laws), broadcasters are required to air disclosures for programming that is paid for or furnished by a third party. The Sponsorship ID Laws derive from the principle that listeners and viewers are entitled to know who might be seeking to persuade them and are designed to help audiences distinguish third-party content from station editorial content. Broadcasters can surmise that the FCC felt it appropriate to remind licensees of the requirements in the aftermath of the Commission’s assessment of a $233,000 forfeiture against Cumulus Radio for airing third-party content without the necessary sponsorship identifications, in violation of the law, FCC policy and Cumulus’ prior consent decree with the Commission.

Not only does the Enforcement Advisory reiterate to broadcasters the obligation to air identification of the sponsor providing the material, it also reminds broadcasters of the less-well-known obligation for licensees to exercise reasonable diligence to obtain, whether from employees or from third-party program suppliers, sponsorship identification information for programs that are aired in exchange for consideration.

Licensees whose stations air programming pursuant to a TBA (also known as a local marketing agreement (LMA)), JSA or SSA should take stock of the programming being supplied to the station under such agreements to ensure appropriate sponsorship identification is aired.

Licensees broadcasting programming provided by foreign governments or sources affiliated with such governments should be particularly attentive to these requirements, and be aware that the FCC is currently examining whether it should impose additional sponsorship identification requirements on such programming.

Public File Obligations for TBAs, JSAs and SSAs

The Media Bureau separately issued a reminder to all commercial broadcasters that copies of TBAs or LMAs, JSAs and SSAs must be uploaded within 30 days of execution to the relevant stations’ OPIFs. Acknowledging that agreements may have a variety of titles, the Commission emphasizes that it is the substance of the agreement that counts: If the agreement covers the lease of airtime to a third party, the joint sale of advertising or the sharing of services among stations that are not commonly owned, that agreement must be placed in the OPIF of all stations subject to the agreement.

Authorship Credit: Dan Kirkpatrick and Davina Sashkin

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