New Sponsorship Identification Requirements for Foreign Government-Provided Programming

The FCC has adopted new rules that will require broadcast radio and television stations to disclose when foreign governmental entities have paid a station, directly or indirectly, to broadcast programming under a lease time agreement. The required disclosure will need to contain a clear, standardized statement informing listeners or viewers that the programming has been sponsored, paid for, or furnished by a foreign governmental entity, and indicate the foreign country involved. The FCC says the rules will ensure that audiences know when a foreign government is seeking to persuade the American public. The FCC’s Report and Order can be found here.

The new disclosure requirements will apply to programming aired through a leased airtime agreement that is provided by a foreign government, a foreign political party, an entity or individual registered as an agent acting on behalf of such entities, or a U.S.-based foreign media outlet.

Leasing agreements include not only local marketing agreements (LMAs) for all of a station’s program time, but also block programming agreements under which a licensee makes a discrete block of broadcast time available to be programmed by another party in return for some form of compensation. Traditional, short-form advertising will not be considered a lease of airtime for purposes of the new rules. Also, programming aired pursuant to a lease agreement that is political or discusses a controversial issue, and that has been provided to a station by a foreign governmental entity for free as an inducement to the station to air it, will require the disclosure.

Broadcast station licensees must take the following specific actions in exercising reasonable diligence to determine if an entity leasing airtime falls within the scope of the rules: (1) tell the lessee about the foreign sponsorship disclosure requirement; (2) ask the lessee if it is a foreign governmental entity; (3) ask if the lessee knows if anyone in the chain of production or distribution for the programming is a foreign governmental entity; (4) confirm the lessee’s status as a non-foreign governmental entity by consulting the Department of Justice’s FARA website and the FCC’s semi-annual U.S.-based foreign media outlets reports; and (5) document these steps. These steps must be taken when a lease time agreement is entered into and/or renewed. The required diligence for lease time agreements in effect when the new rules become effective will need to be undertaken within six months.

The FCC has provided standardized language for programs that require a disclosure. The form of the announcement is: “The [following/preceding] programming was [sponsored, paid for, or furnished], either in whole or in part, by [name of foreign governmental entity] on behalf of [name of foreign country].” The statement must air at both the beginning and ending of the programming. For programming that is more than sixty minutes long, an announcement must be made at regular intervals, no less frequently than once every sixty minutes. For video programming, the foreign governmental entity and the country represented must be identified with letters equal to or greater than four percent of the vertical picture height and air for at least four seconds.

Copies of disclosures must also be uploaded to a station’s online public inspection file, in a standalone folder marked “Foreign Government-Provided Programming Disclosures.” Licensees will be required to update this information on a quarterly basis and to retain the information in public files for two years.

The new rules will go into effect after the Office and Management and Budget reviews them. The Effective Date will be published in the Federal Register.

For more information about the foreign government-provided programming identification rules, and how to determine what steps your station will need to take to comply with them, please contact any attorney in our office.

Categories: Broadcast and Media

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