The FCC voted to require that stations disclose when foreign governments lease time on their airwaves, amid concerns that viewers are unaware when other countries are exerting their influence on U.S. media.
The rule, passed in a 4-0 vote, also will require that stations alert viewers when the airtime has been purchased by a foreign political party, an agent acting on behalf of a government or party, or a U.S.-based foreign media outlet.
Although foreign governments cannot directly hold broadcast licenses, advocates of the rule say that they are increasingly leasing time on stations.
FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel cited the instances of foreign Chinese and Russian sponsored programming.
She said that “this is not a strictly recent phenomenon” but that press reports of the prevalence of such programming has multiplied.
The disclosure rule will require standardized language and format, and the message will have to be aired at the beginning and the end of the broadcast.
“It is also a statement about our national security and the preservation of our democratic values,” Rosenworcel said.
“This is simple, it is about transparency, and it is consistent with the law,” she said.
Last week, the National Association of Broadcasters’ Rick Kaplan wrote in a blog post that the FCC was taking a step toward “old world regulation at its worst.”
Although he said that NAB supported foreign government disclosure, “the FCC is now proposing that over-the-air broadcasters entering into lease agreements with any programmers must take a series of steps to figure out if they are dealing with a foreign government in the first instance.” He argued that the burden will be on stations to show that they are not airing foreign-sponsored programming.
He wrote, “Each of these stations – and hundreds if not thousands like them – are now on the verge of being mandated to undertake steps to prove in advance they are not dealing with foreign governments, even when they each know with certainty they are not.”
Kaplan also pointed to satellite providers like Dish and DirecTV, “which provide foreign government-sponsored networks such as CGTN and RT America across the entire nation. And let’s not forget the league leader when it comes to foreign government-sponsored content: the internet.”
In her remarks, Rosenworcel said that when it comes to stations, “all they have to do is ask lessees if they or their programming are from a foreign government entity. And if the answer is yes, a sponsorship identification will need to be placed on air and documented in the station public file.” If the answer if no, she said, broadcasters will need to independently verify the lessee using the Foreign Agency Registration Act from the Department of Justice and the the FCC’s regular foreign media outlet reports.
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