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Regulations FAQs

Public File

What are the requirements for educational and informational programming on a television station?: Pursuant to the Children’s Television Act of 1990, every full-power and Class A television licensee is required to serve the educational and informational needs of children in its overall programming. Educational and informational programming is any television programming that furthers the educational and informational needs of children 16 years of age and under in any respect, including the child’s intellectual/cognitive or social/emotional needs. Programming specifically designed to serve these needs is known as “core programming.” To meet the requirements, a licensee must (i) air at least three hours per week of core programs; (ii) identify core programs by displaying the symbol “E/I” throughout the program; and (iii) provide parents and consumers with advance information about core programs and when they are being aired. Core programming must be regularly scheduled programming, at least thirty minutes in length, and be aired between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.

Licensees must complete a Children’s Television Programming Report (FCC Form 398) each quarter reflecting such efforts and describing efforts planned for the next quarter. The reports must be placed in the licensee’s public inspection file by the tenth day of the succeeding calendar quarter (e.g., January 10, April 10, July 10 and October 10). The reports must be retained in the public file until final action has been taken on the station’s next license renewal application. The reports must comply with the following requirements:

  • All reports must include a brief narrative describing what issues were given significant treatment and the programming that provided the treatment. The descriptions of the programs should include, but is not limited to, the time, date, duration and title of each program in which the issue was treated.
  • All reports must also include the name of the individual at the station responsible for collecting comments on the station’s compliance with the Children’s Television Act.
  • They must be kept separate from the other materials in the public inspection file.
  • They must identify the program guide publishers to which information regarding the licensee’s educational and informational programming was provided.
  • Finally, they must include the station’s license renewal date.
The FCC has imposed substantial forfeitures for failure to timely file FCC Form 398.

Main Studio Rules: Each AM, FM and TV broadcast station must maintain a main studio at one of the following locations:(1) within the station’s community of license; (2) at any location within the principal community contour of any AM, FM or TV broadcast station licensed to the station’s community of license; or (3) within twenty-five miles from the reference coordinates of the center of its community of license. Class A television stations must maintain a main studio at the site used by the stations as of November 29, 1999, or a location within the Station’s Grade B contour. FCC rules and policies require a significant managerial and staff presence at the main studio. This means that there must be at least one full-time management level employee based at the main studio, and at least one staff level employee present during regular business hours. It is possible that the staff level employee may be shared with another business so long as the employee is able to accomplish all station related duties.

What is the public inspection file?: Each AM, FM, TV, and Class A TV broadcast applicant and licensee must maintain a local public inspection file. The file must be made available at the station’s main studio, wherever located. In addition, an applicant for a new station or change of community must locate its public inspection file in the proposed community of license or at its proposed main studio. Licensees may also maintain all or part of their public file in a computer database rather than in paper files, so long as a computer terminal is made available at the location of the public file for use by members of the public. Those licensees who decide to do this are encouraged, but are not required, to post their “electronic” public files on any web sites they maintain on the Internet. The file must be available for inspection by any member of the public, free from harassment, at any time during regular business hours. It is the responsibility of the licensee or applicant to ensure that the public file is maintained and is available to the public, regardless of where the file is located. In addition, the Commission’s rules and policies provide that you may require the person requesting to review the public file to provide his or her name and address and you may require them to sign a request form. You may have an employee remain in the room where the public file is being inspected. You may not, however, require a person to make an appointment before inspecting the public file, insist on knowing why the file is being inspected, require the identification of the group or organization to which the person viewing belongs or require the identification of particular documents before they are produced for inspection.

Beginning February 2, 2013, all full-power and Class A television broadcasters are required to upload all public file documents except for the Political File and letters/emails from the public to the station’s online public inspection file maintained in a separate physical file at the main studio. Political files must be uploaded for top-50 markets, top-4 network stations as of February 2, 2013, and for other stations starting on July 1, 2014

What kind of access do I need to make available for my public inspection file?: Copies of any material in the public file must be made available for machine reproduction upon requests made in person; the station may require that the requesting party pays the reasonable costs of reproduction. These requests should be fulfilled within 7 days. In addition, requests made by telephone must be honored only when the main studio is not located in the station’s community of license. Otherwise, requests must be made in person. If the main studio is not located in the station’s community of license, the station is required to pay postage only when mailing information within its geographic service area. Stations may require payment in advance for reproduction costs, except for copies of the Public and Broadcasting, a publication created by and provided by the FCC, which must be provided free of charge.

What contents are required in the Public Inspection File?: The following documents are required to be kept in the public inspection file:

  1. Authorization: A copy of the current FCC authorization to construct or operate the station (license or construction permit) and any other documents necessary to reflect any modifications or conditions that have been placed on the authorization. This information must be retained as long as the authorizations reflect current and accurate information about the station.
  2. Applications and Related Materials: All applications filed with the FCC (new stations, modifications, renewals, assignment, transfer of control, pro forma assignment or transfer of control), together with any related materials such as amendments or correspondence with the FCC and copies of any initial decision or final decision in a hearing case related to the application. If a petition to deny has been filed and served on the applicant, a statement that such petition was filed and by whom it was filed must be placed in the public inspection file. This information must be retained until “final” action has been taken on the application.
  3. Citizen agreements (for commercial stations only): A copy of every written citizen agreement.
  4. Contour Maps: A copy of any service contour maps, submitted with any application to the Commission, along with any other information showing service contours and/or main studio and transmitter location (state, county, city, street address, etc.). This information must be retained as long as it reflects current and accurate information about the station.
  5. Ownership Report: A copy of the most recent, complete ownership report (FCC Form 323) filed with the FCC for the station, along with supplemental ownership reports or statements filed with the Commission certifying that the current report is accurate, together with all related materials. This information must be retained until a new complete ownership report is filed with the FCC.
  6. Contracts: The following contracts must be kept in the public file. A list of these contracts may be kept instead, however, stations choosing this option must provide copies of the contracts within seven days of a request.
    • Articles of partnership, association and incorporation.
    • Bylaws.
    • Agreements providing for the assignment of a license or affecting ownership, voting rights of stock.
    • Proxies.
    • Mortgage or loan agreements restricting licensee’s freedom of operation.
    • Agreements reflecting change in officers, directors or stockholders of a corporation having a direct or indirect interest in the licensee or permittee.
    • Management consultant agreements with independent contractors.
    • Management contracts that provide percentages of both profits and losses.
    • Management agreements with persons other than officers, directors or regular employees of the licensee.
  7. Political File: Records of political broadcast requests including dispositions of requests, charges made, class of time, records of any free time provided to or on behalf of the candidates and date and time of broadcast. These files must be retained for two years.
  8. Annual Employment Records: A copy of a station’s EEO Public File Report, prepared annually, must be placed in the public file on the anniversary of the date the station is due to file its renewal (see also “Equal Employment Opportunities”). The station must retain all EEO Public File Reports in the public file until final action has been taken on the station’s next renewal application.
  9. The Public and Broadcasting: A copy of the most recent version of this FCC manual, published in July 2008 is available from the FCC’s website (http://www.fcc.gov/guides/public-and-broadcasting-july-2008).
  10. Letters and E-mail from the Public: All letters and e-mail received from the public and sent to station management or a publicly advertised e-mail address containing comments and suggestions regarding the operation of the station (unless confidential, obscene or defamatory). Personal e-mails of staff members are specifically excluded from the e-mail retention requirement. Stations are no longer required to separate letters or e-mails into programming and non-programming categories. Licensees may retain e-mails either on paper or in a computer file, but must provide either a diskette or access to a computer to the requesting public. Letters and emails shall be retained for a period of three years from receipt by the licensee.
  11. Material Relating to an FCC Investigation or Complaint: Material that has a substantial bearing on a matter which is the subject of an FCC investigation or complaint to the FCC of which the licensee has been advised. This material must be retained until the FCC provides notification in writing that it may be discarded.
  12. Records Concerning Commercial Limits (for commercial TV and Class A TV broadcast stations): Records sufficient to permit substantiation of the station’s certification, in its license renewal application, of compliance with the commercial limits on children’s programming. These records are to be placed in the public file every calendar quarter and must be retained in the public file until final action has been taken on the station’s next license renewal application.
  13. Children’s Television Programming Reports (for commercial TV and Class A TV broadcast stations only): A completed Children’s Television Report (FCC Form 398) must be filed with the Commission each calendar quarter and a copy of the Report must be placed in the public file by the tenth day of the succeeding calendar quarter. This Report must be retained until final action has been taken on the station’s next license renewal application .
  14. Quarterly Issues/Program Lists (for commercial AM,FM, TV and Class A television broadcast stations): Every three months, a list of programs that have provided the stations most significant treatment of community issues during the preceding three month period. The list should include a narrative describing what issues were given significant treatment and a brief description of the programming that provided this treatment including the title, date, time of broadcast and duration. These lists are to be placed in the public file each calendar quarter (January 10, April 10, July 10 and October 10). These lists must be retained in the public file until final action has been taken on the station’s next license renewal application.
  15. Local Public Notice Announcements: Each applicant for renewal must, within 7 days of broadcast of the last public notice of filing for license renewal, place a copy of a statement certifying compliance with this requirement in the public file.
  16. Radio and Television Time Brokerage Agreements (for commercial stations only): A copy of every contract or agreement involving time brokerage of the licensee’s station or of another station by the licensee, with confidential or proprietary information redacted if necessary.
  17. Must-carry or retransmission consent election (for television stations only): Statements of a commercial TV or Class A TV station concerning election of either must-carry or re-transmission consent. These must be retained for the duration of the three-year period to which they apply. Non-commercial educational stations requesting mandatory carriage on any cable system must place a copy of this request in its public inspection file and must retain both the request and all relevant correspondence for the duration of any period to which the request applies.
  18. Donor Lists (for noncommercial educational stations only): The lists of donors supporting specific programs. This information must be retained for 2 years.
  19. Documents Demonstrating Class A TV Continuing Eligibility (Class A television stations only): Documents sufficient to establish that the station continues to meet the Class A eligibility requirements. These documents must be retained so long as the station is licensed as Class A. (20.) Radio and Television Joint Sales Agreements (for commercial stations only): A copy of agreement for the joint sale of advertising time involving the station must be placed in the public file, whether the agreement involved stations in the same markets or in differing markets, with confidential or proprietary information redacted where appropriate.

Now that the FCC requires TV stations to up load their political files, do stations have to keep a paper file at the station for public inspection?: Because the FCC has not moved the “letters from the public” and “political file before July 1, 2014 for non-large market stations” sections of the file online, all TV stations will continue to have a paper file locally that will have at least that information. Since political files only go back two years, that part of the local file will be moot on July 1, 2016. However, as long as letters to the public are kept locally, TV stations will continue to have a local public file containing at least those.