A federal appeals court in the United States overturned a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requirement that broadcasters check federal sources to verify the identities of sponsors on Tuesday.
The court noted that the FCC had expressed concerns that “the Chinese and Russian governments have been secretly leasing air time to broadcast propaganda on American radio.” The FCC rules, which were finalized in April 2021, require foreign-government sponsorship disclosure at the time of broadcast if a foreign governmental entity paid a radio or television station, directly or indirectly, to air material.
“The FCC cannot require radio broadcasters to check federal sources to verify sponsors’ identities,” wrote Judge Justin Walker of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for the three-judge panel.
The rules went into effect in March for new leasing agreements and had to be implemented within six months for existing agreements. Prior rules did not specify when and how foreign government sponsorship should be made public.
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel stated on Tuesday “The principle that the public has a right to know the identity of those who seek their support is a fundamental and long-standing tenet of broadcasting… Consumers have a right to believe that public airwaves are not being leased to private foreign actors without their knowledge.”
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The National Association of Broadcasters challenged the FCC rule requiring independent checks, claiming it would impose “onerous requirements to… conduct independent research on all entities with whom broadcasters currently or will in the future have lease agreements.”
According to Stephen Kinnaird, a lawyer for the National Association of Broadcasters, the decision “vindicates the plain language of the statute, which limits broadcasters’ duty to secure program sponsor information.”
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the issue took on new urgency.