Coronavirus News to Share? FCC Won’t Ensnare

BY PETER TANNENWALD OF FLETCHER HEALD & HILDRETH

The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has issued a Public Notice assuring radio and TV stations that they may share news content and news-gathering resources on an emergency or ad hoc basis during the coronavirus crisis without reducing their arrangements to writing or putting them in their online public inspection file (“OPIF”) as “shared service” agreements (“SSAs”), as long as the sharing is temporary and not part of implementing a long-term formal agreement.

Rule Section 73.3526(e)(18) requires stations to put in writing and to post agreements that involve collaboration or the provision of programming, administrative, technical, and/or sales support between stations that are not commonly controlled. The posting requirement applies only to full power and Class A television stations, not to radio stations.

When it adopted the SSA rule, the FCC excluded “ad hoc or ‘on-the-fly’ arrangements during breaking news coverage,” which is “typically precipitated by unforeseen or rapidly developing events.” The exclusion applies as long as those arrangements are not undertaken pursuant to a broader, longer-term, agreement governing news coverage outside of the emergency, even when each station produces its own newscasts. Those broader agreements are considered to be SSAs and do have to be posted in the OPIF.

So if you are collaborating temporarily with other stations, in or outside of your designated market area (“DMA”), to facilitate coronavirus coverage, go for it, let your news staff do their thing, and don’t worry about paperwork or your OPIF.

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