FCC Exempts New Television Series From Federal Equal Opportunity Rules

FCC Exempts New Television Series From Federal Equal Opportunity Rules

August 17, 2015
by Jerry Glover

The Federal Communications Commission recently exempted a not-yet-broadcast television series from the requirements of the federal equal opportunity requirements. In the Matter of GNH Productions, Inc. (FCC August 10, 2015). The series, entitled “Crime Watch Daily,” is, as its name states, a daily show about crime-related news including newsworthy trials that would use a magazine-style format including interviews, on-the-spot coverage and documentary footage. The series producer, GNH Productions, Inc., asked the FCC for a declaratory ruling that the series was exempt from these requirements even though its first program is not scheduled to air until September 2015.

The equal opportunity rules are found in Section 315 of the federal Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. Sec. 315). This section of the law requires broadcast licensees who allow a legally qualified candidate for public office to use that station to provide equal opportunities to other such candidates for that same office. However, that same section exempts certain “bona fide” news programming including bona fide newscast from those requirements. But what does “bona fide” mean?

The FCC explained that Congress intended that the program “be of genuine news value and not be designed to serve the political advantage of any particular candidacy.” Citing In re request of Oliver Productions, Inc., 4 FCC Red 5953 (1989). The FCC noted that its only role in determining whether a series is “bona fide” news programming is to determine whether the series (or an individual program within the series) meets Congress’ program characteristics and whether a broadcaster was reasonable in deciding that a program fits within an exemption. The Commission’s decision noted several other television series that had been granted this exemption even though the general public might views some of these series as entertainment programming: “Entertainment Tonight,” “Extra” and a series dealing with current religious news.

The FCC stated that is considers whether the program reports news of some area of current events in a manner similar to traditional newscasts. GNH stated that the stories it covered would be determined by series producers based on their good faith journalistic judgment.

The Commission granted the exemption to the series but reminded individual broadcasters that they were each ultimately responsible for determining on a program by program basis whether that program met the bona fide news programming requirement.

NOTE TO READERS: The equal opportunity rules are often referred to as the “equal time” rules but that latter phrase is misleading. Broadcasters are not required to give candidates the same time spot for the exact amount of time as they gave to opposing candidates. Broadcasters need only give candidates equal opportunity, i.e., similar time period, similar amounts of time.

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