FCC May Grant Waivers for Public Broadcasting Third-Party Funding

Published June 11, 2012

The Federal Communications Commission has announced the agency may liberalize its rules prohibiting noncommercial broadcasters from raising funds for an entity other than the station itself if the fundraising alters or disrupts regular programming.

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti prompted commercial and public broadcasters to seek ways to raise emergency funds for the country. Although noncommercial educational (NCE) broadcasters normally would be forbidden to participate, the FCC issued a public notice granting waivers to those broadcasters because of the level of the tragedy.

The FCC subsequently began considering granting more flexibility to noncommercial broadcasters by allowing certain NCE stations to engage in fundraising for charities and other third-party nonprofit organizations.

Longstanding Rule
Prohibition of third-party fundraising on NCE programming was in place before the Communications Act of 1934 was revamped in the 1980s, and the rule was reaffirmed during that change.

Although the Act was changed to allow noncommercial broadcasters to accept paid promotional spots for nonprofit organizations, the FCC did not change the rule against third-party fundraising that disrupts normal programming.

The FCC claims it originally implemented this policy to ensure NCE stations serve their public educational purpose. According to the agency’s April 26 Notice for Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), “[E]ducational stations are licensed to provide a noncommercial broadcast service, not to serve as a fundraising operation for other entities by broadcasting material that is ‘akin to regular advertising.'”

NCE stations currently “may not conduct fundraising activities to benefit any entity besides the station itself if the activities would substantially alter or suspend regular programming,” but the NPRM is seeking comments that may convince the FCC to change the rule, which would allow fundraising similar to the Haitian disaster-relief effort.

The FCC based its NPRM on a July 2011 commission report authored by Steven Waldman, “The Information Needs of Communities,” which “recommended that we consider affording noncommercial broadcasters more flexibility by allowing certain NCE stations to engage in fundraising for charities and other third-party non-profit organizations. This NPRM promotes the goals of Executive Order 13579 by analyzing whether the Commission’s longstanding policy against fundraising for third-party nonprofits may be tailored to grant NCE stations limited flexibility without undermining the policy’s important goals,” the NPRM states.

Paid Advertising Acceptable
In the NPRM the Commission states it considers the longstanding rule justifiable even though NCE stations have been able to run paid advertising spots for nonprofit organizations since the Act was changed.

Comments will be due 30 days after date of publication in the Federal Register, and reply comments will be due 30 days after that.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.

Internet Info

“Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: NPRM, NCE Stations and Third Party Fundraising,” Federal Communications Commission, April 26, 2012: http://www.fcc.gov/document/nprm-nce-stations-and-third-party-fundraising

The Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in a Broadband Age,” Steven Waldman, Federal Communications Commission, July 2011: http://transition.fcc.gov/osp/inc-report/INoC-Executive_Summary.pdf