Public affairs programming is any program that addresses issues of public interest. Subjects can include health and wellness, political discussion, employment and a variety of social issues such as education and poverty. These may be presented in the form of news, interviews and pre-recorded talk programming and public service announcements.
Yes, radio stations are required to carry programming in the public interest. They can do this in a variety of ways including long-form public affairs programming, interviews, news programming, or public service announcements (PSAs).
Radio stations are granted a license to operate from the Federal Communications Communication (FCC). The license requires broadcast entities to operate in the public interest. Because it is a government license, stations must not only broadcast public affairs programming but document the broadcasts online as part of its Public Inspection File (PIF).
There are no specific requirements for stations to carry a certain amount of programming. Yet, stations are required to carry programming that demonstrates they are operating in the public interest. This has programmers in search of quality produced programming that fulfills this requirement and provides the proper documentation, allowing them to save time and money plus serve the community.
Compliance issues are the topics covered that the FCC recognizes as in the public interest. There is no specific list of compliance issues. As long as the issues are relevant and further the interest of the community, they can be considered compliance issues. Issues may include but are not limited to education, poverty, government, crime, and politics. If a station does not properly document the broadcast of such programming and issues each quarter, it is not in compliance with FCC regulation and is subject to penalty.
No. While the FCC states public affairs programming should be “responsive to the needs and problems of its local community of license,” it is not a requirement that the programming be locally produced or address only issues specifically related to the local community. In fact, many local radio stations don’t have the resources to constantly produce their own public affairs programming, document it properly, and upload it into their PIF. They turn to syndicated or nationally produced programming and PSAs, often provided free of charge, to help them comply and broadcast in the public interest.
Since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) cannot possibly monitor the programming of every broadcast station, it relies on stations to maintain a Public Inspection File. This file contains various materials to verify the station is operating in the public interest, including program logs of topics and issues covered by each station’s public affairs programming.
Public Inspection files are kept online with the FCC and are available for public view at any time, 24 hours a day. Stations must post a link to this file on their website so it’s available to all. The only part of the PIF that is not required to be uploaded is the Political File, which can stored either physically or online.
There is an extensive list of items that must be included in a radio station’s electronic PIF. Stations may also keep a physical file at a location accessible to the public containing additional information. Together, these files include (but are not limited to):
— FCC related materials including authorizations, applications, contour maps, and FCC related investigations and complaints.
— Ownership related materials.
— Files relating to Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) efforts.
— The Public and Broadcasting manual.
— Political File.
— Community Issues/Programs list.
— Local public notice certifications and announcements regarding license renewals.
— Time brokerage agreements.
— Joint sales agreements.
— Shared services agreements.
Public inspection files are to be updated quarterly. Public affairs programming logs, including compliance issues covered, for the past quarter should be uploaded at the end of March, June, September and December.
Depending on the significance and extent of failure to comply with FCC regulations, stations may suffer consequences ranging from warnings and fines (sometimes significant amounts) to loss of their broadcast license.