Aug 24 2020

WASHINGTON, DC—The 2020 election season is well underway—and the radio airwaves already are filling with campaign ads. Womble Bond Dickinson attorney John Garziglia regularly counsels stations on their political advertising obligations and in a new Radio Ink article, he outlines what radio staffers need to know in order to comply with FCC regulations.

Garziglia emphasizes that the FCC is requiring stations to immediately upload requests for political time in the station’s online public file. While the filing requirement has been in place for some time, the FCC is putting a renewed onus on stations to fulfil these requirements without delay. He writes, “In the past month, the FCC has imposed upon numerous radio broadcasters, both big and small, significant compliance plan burdens through consent decrees for failures to immediately upload political file material.”

Garziglia also discusses stations’ obligation to provide advertising time to candidates at the lowest unit charge offered for the particular time purchased. Garziglia notes that a number of factors can determine the class of time offered by a particular station, and that can complicate the question of determining appropriate ad rates for political spots.

“Just keep in mind that the FCC’s rules require a full disclosure of all classes of time available to a political advertiser,” Garziglia writes, “The good news with lowest unit charge and classes of time issues is that, at least for now, the FCC takes a proactive approach and welcomes calls from broadcasters seeking a determination of the actual lowest unit charge for a particular class of time.”

However, he said the FCC is not nearly as accommodating when it comes to sponsorship ID omissions. During campaign seasons, PACs and other issue-oriented groups also run radio ads. The lowest unit charge requirement does not apply to these advertisers, but stations must take great care to document and report specific information about these ads and the parties that purchase them.

Stations also need to be careful about distinguishing between bona fide news interviews with political candidates and simply giving a candidate an open microphone to express his or her views. Legitimate, bona fide. news interviews do not trigger an equal time requirement.

Finally, Garziglia writes that individual stations must be vigilant about political programming offered via networks or syndicators. Such programs are not regulated by the FCC, but individual stations must ensure that the required information on political ads is immediately uploaded to the station’s online political file.

Click here to read “It’s Political and It’s Complicated” by John Garziglia in Radio Ink.

John Garziglia represents radio and television broadcasters, offering personalized assistance in all areas of communications and telecommunications law including transactional and contract negotiations for broadcast station mergers and acquisitions, the securing of financing, governmental auctions of new frequencies, license renewals, new stations applications, facility changes, facility upgrades, licensing, and compliance with FCC rules, regulations and policies.