Justice Dept. asks Ninth Circuit to reconsider pubcasting ad decision

The U.S. Department of Justice is asking the Ninth Circuit Court to reconsider its April decision that a federal law banning public television and radio stations from running political advertising was unconstitutional. In its June 29 filing, the Justice Department argued that the finding “threatens the fundamental nature of public broadcasting.”

In Minority Television Project v. FCC, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit voted 2-1 to overturn the ban in the case brought by the longtime licensee of noncommercial San Francisco station KMTP-TV (Current, April 23). The Justice Department’s appeal to the full court argues that that the panel majority “applied erroneous legal standards and misinterpreted the record” to reach their conclusion. “Federal law has consistently precluded public television licensees from airing paid advertisements,” the Justice Department’s filing contends. “The reasons for this are straightforward and uncontested: public broadcasters provide educational programming (particularly high-quality children’s programming) that is not available on commercial stations and subjecting public stations to advertisers’ market pressures would undermine their ability to provide such programming.” Continue Reading

FCC to clear translator backlog, create new LPFMs

The FCC took another step March 19 toward licensing more low-power FM stations, a move long advocated by community radio leaders. The agency will work through a backlog of thousands of applications for FM translators under a new system that it formally adopted, modifying a proposal floated last summer (Current, July 25, 2011). The pending translator apps must be processed before any new LPFM licenses can be awarded. The commission will toss out FM translator apps in larger markets to make way for LPFMs in those areas while continuing to process requests for translators in less-populous areas. Applicants can seek no more than 50 translator licenses nationwide, a new limitation cracking down on speculative filings seen in the past (Current, March 28, 2005). Continue Reading

As expected, FCC decides to sunset analog/digital viewability rule

The FCC is officially ending its viewability rule, which required cable operators with analog/digital systems to deliver must-carry TV stations in both formats, reports Broadcasting & Cable. Broadcasters wanted  the FCC to extend the requirement another three years, but the cable industry backed the FCC proposal to sunset the rule. Cable operators must still provide dual carriage for a six-month transition period and give customers 90 days' warning before ending analog transmissions. If too many consumers complain, the FCC may reinstate the requirement.The National Association of Broadcasters "remains concerned" that the decision "has the potential to impose negative financial consequences on small local TV stations that are a source for minority, religious and independent program diversity across America," said Dennis Wharton, NAB spokesperson. Those stations had protested the end of analog signals. Continue Reading

Underwriting drop leaves NPR with $2.6M shortfall

Facing an operating deficit of $2.6 million this fiscal year due to a shortfall in corporate sponsorship income, NPR is stepping up efforts to cover the gap with additional gifts, grants and underwriting. These measures are being taken rather than “cutting deep into NPR,” a spokesperson told Current last week, after the Washington Post reported that the network had considered cutting Tell Me More, the daily newsmagazine aimed at people of color. The Post’s report cited anonymous sources describing internal discussions. NPR President Gary Knell later told media outlets that there were no plans to cancel the show. NPR hit a record high in corporate sponsorship income last year but is now struggling, with a variety of factors contributing to the slowdown in sponsorship revenue. Continue Reading

Advocates press FCC to open more channels for LPFMs

NPR, the National Association of Broadcasters and advocates for low-power radio expressed opposing views to the FCC in a proceeding that will shape the future of the commission’s expanding class of low-power FM broadcasters. For the second time since it created the LPFM service in 2000, the FCC has been preparing to accept another round of applications from would-be LPFM operators. In March the commission asked broadcasters and other stakeholders to comment on changes that it may implement before granting the next wave of low-power licenses. The licenses go strictly to noncommercial operators, and so far have permitted stations of only up to 100 watts. This time the stakes are particularly high for LPFM hopefuls, as the commission expects all available LPFM frequencies may be exhausted in the next application window. Continue Reading

Court would let public stations sell candidate and issues ads

No, there won’t be any windfall of Obama and Romney Super PAC gazillions for public stations this year. By a 2–1 vote, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco did indeed rule April 12 that public broadcasters can carry political and public-issue commercials, but the decision is unlikely to take effect any time soon, even in the Ninth Circuit states of the West. Neither side in Minority Television Project v. FCC got everything it wanted in the decision, so one or the other could ask the appeals court for a review by a larger panel of its judges even before the District Court implements the appeals court’s order. For Minority Television Project, licensee of San Francisco pubTV station KMTP, the court decision left standing the main legislation that bars untrammeled advertising on public stations. The low-profile non-PBS station, which fills much of its four DTV multicast channels with German, Chinese, South Korean and other imported or foreign-language programs, went to court after the FCC fined it $10,000 for violating that law 1,900 times between 1999 and 2002. Continue Reading

With FCC’s eye on Daystar, WMFE-TV sale nixed

The FCC has delayed decisions on two transactions involving sales of public TV stations to Daystar Television Network to examine whether the religious broadcaster meets its criteria for localism and educational programming by noncommercial broadcasters. The scrutiny scuttled a deal involving WMFE in Orlando, pending for nearly a year, and held up a decision on KWBU in Waco, Texas. Daystar, a Texas-based religious network, has been in the market for public TV stations since at least 2003, when it paid $20 million for KERA’s second TV channel in Dallas. It most recently bid on KCSM in San Mateo, Calif. The WMFE sale fell apart after the FCC sent queries to the local entities that had been set up to operate the Orlando and Waco stations. Continue Reading