FCC underscores enforcement of discriminatory ad dictates


Radio and television stations are being required to certify that they are not party to advertising contracts that deliberately bypass minority-oriented stations via no urban/Hispanic dictates. This process is part of the new license renewal form.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, “It should be clear from today’s advisory that the Commission will vigorously enforce its rules against discrimination in advertising sales contracts.  As the Commission stated in its order adopting the rule, discrimination simply has no place in broadcasting.”

After noting that such arrangements are generally struck by advertisers and the advertising services they use, FCC stated, “Commercial broadcasters must complete the certification in order to renew their broadcast licenses.  If they cannot affirmatively certify that their advertising agreements do not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity, they must explain why this should not be an impediment to granting the station’s license renewal application.  The broadcaster’s response and explanation will be considered by the Commission in determining whether to renew the license.”
Michele Ellison, Chief of the Enforcement Bureau said, “The advisory puts everyone on notice that the Commission has no tolerance for this type of insidious discrimination.  Our leadership has asked us to bring renewed focus to these important broadcasting issues.  We will work in close collaboration with the Media Bureau to give this new requirement meaning.

According to the FCC, the licensee can’t just sign off on the certification. “Licensees must have a good faith basis for an affirmative certification and a reasonable basis for believing that factual information provided to the Commission is truthful and accurate. For example, a licensee that uses a third party to arrange advertising sales is responsible for exercising due diligence to ensure that the advertising agreement contains the nondiscrimination clause and does not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity. Furthermore, a broadcaster that learns of a violation of a nondiscrimination clause while its license renewal application is pending should update its license renewal application so that it continues to be accurate.”

RBR-TVBR observation: We are absolutely against no urban/Spanish dictates. Nevertheless, correct us if we’re wrong, but isn’t this an impossibility at the single station licensee level? And doesn’t that make a single station a largely ineffective place with which to launch an enforcement effort?

A no urban/Spanish dictate must necessarily be part of a buy involving many stations. A single station, no matter how it is programmed, likely has no idea whether or not such an arrangement has been put in place.

Perhaps a group owner could enter into such an arrangement, but if it did, addressing it at the individual license level probably would not be the most effective approach – the FCC would need to find a way to go after the group as a whole.

Anyway, as the FCC noted, where this problem exists, it is between the various elements of the advertising community and their clients – and that is where enforcement should be directed.

Again, maybe we’re wrong again, but as far as enforcement policies go, this one seems to be all gums and no teeth. Are broadcasters really being asked to peer into the souls of advertisers and media reps and divine their discriminatory intentions? And would the kind of broadcast licensee that refuses ads – in other words, turns down money – on the basis of anything other than ability to pay, see this question on the license renewal form and say, “Ya got me, FCC – it’s true. I’m a despicable advertising discriminator and undeserving of my license.” Seriously…