ORLANDO, Fla. (NRB) – It is a “new day” in Washington, D.C., for broadcasters, legal experts said at Proclaim 17, the NRB International Christian Media Convention in Orlando.
Two lawyers who specialize in broadcast law – Joseph Chautin, III and David Oxenford – provided encouragement regarding the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during a 90-minute session March 1 on radio regulations in the new Trump administration.
“Things are changing,” said Oxenford, a lawyer with Washington, D.C.-based Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP, and editor of the Broadcast Law Blog. “All the sacred cows that have been there forever are open to re-examination. All the stupid rules that have governed your actions that the FCC has adopted over the years, and every other agency in Washington has adopted over the years,” are up for reconsideration, he said.
“[N]othing is off the table,” Oxenford told the audience. “The FCC is really ready to listen to any rational explanation as to why particular rules are not needed anymore, why rules don’t make sense, why rules are just putting you through the motions of doing something without really accomplishing what its underlying goal is.”
Much of the optimism about the FCC – which oversees radio, television, satellite, and cable communications – is based on the new chairman, Ajit Pai. Named chairman by President Trump in January, Pai was an FCC lawyer for four years before President Obama appointed him as a commissioner in 2012.
Pai “is pro-broadcaster, meaning he is kind of a broadcast junkie,” said Chautin, a managing partner of Hardy, Carey, Chautin & Balkin, LLP in the New Orleans area. “He grew up on AM radio [in Parsons, Kansas] and has been really a part of the AM revitalization efforts.”
He is a “rare combination of skill and someone who sees broadcast issues that we frankly haven’t seen at the FCC in some time,” Chautin said.
After becoming chairman, Pai quickly reversed some decisions made late in the Obama administration, Chautin told broadcasters. He also started a new transparency initiative, making matters available to the public at the same time he circulates them to other commissioners, Chautin said.
Republicans hold a 2-1 majority on the FCC, and two new commissioners could join the panel by this summer, Chautin told session participants.
Other topics the lawyers discussed included:
Equal employment opportunity (EEO) recruiting
Broadcasters with at least five employees currently are required to publicize openings in a local newspaper and with local organizations, but comments filed in January with the FCC showed no real opposition to relying solely on online recruiting, Oxenford said. “I would imagine sometime this year you will be able to use just online sources” in recruiting, he predicted.
Online public files
Radio stations are in the midst of a transition that is to be completed by March 1, 2018, from paper public files to online public files that will be posted on the FCC’s website, Chautin told the audience. An online public file has both “good features” and “drawbacks,” he said. A broadcaster in the audience complained the public file is the “biggest waste of time,” and Chautin said, “There are many people who share your views.” It is possible the FCC might eliminate some of the items in the public file, he added.
The FCC prohibits noncommercial stations from raising funds for third parties, such as charities in communities. The commission has issued “blanket waivers” in the case of disasters, such as hurricanes, but a FCC proposal five years ago to permit up to one percent of airtime for third-party nonprofit organization fundraising has yet to be acted on, Oxenford said.
The idea of dropping the fundraising ban came when Democrats controlled the FCC, Chautin said. “I think there is hope yet,” he said. “I think there is support even with the three commissioners we have now to adopt something along those lines.”
Chautin and Oxenford also addressed such issues as FM translators, Class C4 FM radio stations, ownership report changes, and Sound Exchange.
Dr. Paul Virts, senior consultant for research with Dallas-based Advocace Media, LLC , moderated the discussion.
By Tom Strode
Published: March 20, 2017