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The Antiquated FCC Contest Rule Requirement

1-24-2012

How many times have you aired a contest rules promo between the hours of midnight and 6AM or sped up the audio so you can squeeze in all the copy to satisfy the government? It was back in 1976 when the rule requiring stations to air contest rules went into effect. How did your station website look back then? How many listeners did you have in your e-mail database back then? How many listeners followed your every move on Facebook and Twitter back then? Times certainly have changed but, on this issue, the FCC seems to stand still. David Field and the folks at Entercom are trying to nudge the FCC to get with the program and into the 90's, however, at the end of the day the commission can simply ignore Entercom's request to change the rules.

The FCC recently issued Clear Channel a $22,000 fine because it did not satisfy their rule for an Internet contest. The FCC wanted more of an explanation over the air because Clear Channel was also promoting the Internet contest over the air even though the rules were clearly stated online. Sound like a ball of confusion to you? The commission has gotten quite aggressive on this topic the past few years.

Broadcast attorney John Garziglia says, "there is no question that the FCCs rule requiring on-air recitations of material contest terns is outdated, assuming that it was ever justified in the first instance. But what is striking is that this FCC rule is just one of many of the FCCs rules that are horribly outdated. Not too long ago, the broadcast community was reminded of the irrelevance of some of the FCC EEO rules by sanctions being levied against stations who used only the web for required EEO recruitment activities.  In issuing those sanctions, the FCC argued that the web is not ubiquitous enough for a wide dissemination of job vacancy information, a premise that is unsupported by the current proliferation of Internet use."

Attorney David Oxenford says the approach Entercom is taking with the commission makes a lot of sense. "I think that's actually a good way of dealing with it. We've had similar situations from other government agencies, like a lot of disclosure requirements on certain lending practices where those rules can be found either in a newspaper or on some website. Remember the old days, at the end of any sort of commercial about leasing a car or getting a mortgage you had to have some guy talking really fast at the end in order to get all the disclosures in. Now it just refers people to specific locations. So other government agencies have found that to be a sufficient way of disclosing things. I think it very well warrants a look by the FCC."

Oxenford says the FCC doesn't have to do anything with Entercoms filing. "If the commission thinks it's significant, they will usually put it on a public notice and ask the public for comments as to whether the commission should do something with it. Once they get the public comment, they will consider it for a while. If they decide that the original filing and the comments that were filed make it to be a significant enough issue, they will put out a notice of proposed rule making. There are some of these petitions that just die at the FCC and others that are processed relatively quickly." So, others may want to follow the Entercom lead at the FCC.

Garziglia believes additional changes are warranted when it comes to some FCC rules. "Other FCC broadcast station rules that immediately come to mind as being outdated or irrelevant are the bulk of the public file rules and the main studio rules. Each was adopted before the Internet made a physical presence of people, and a physical inspection of documents, largely irrelevant.  Therefore, while the contest rule petition for rulemaking is on target, it is far too narrow.  Rather, broadcasters should encourage the FCC to incorporate Entercoms petition into a broader rule making proceeding that seeks to review and revise, because of the ubiquity of the Internet, irrelevant and out-dated FCC rules and policies." 




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