Pacifica’s FCC Lawyer on Rules/Practices for Public Service Operating Agreements


In speaking to the Pacifica National Board (PNB) and members of the public at a PNB meeting in February 2014, one of Pacifica’s FCC attorneys, Melody Virtue, said, in part:

The programming rights relate to — the Licensee has to approve any major programming change. So if there’s a format change, the licensee had better approve it. The FCC also allows the licensee to preempt any of the Programmer’s programs if they feel that those programs do not meet the public interest, if there’s something of more pressing public interest, not just an emergency situation. Now in reality the way these work a lot of times is that the licensee is cooperating with the Programmer and they have an agreement in place that spells out who’s gonna be doing what, and there’s certain expectations because the Programmer invests a lot of its time and money into developing the programming on the station. But the licensee always has the right to pre-empt if it’s not in the public interest, if there’s an emergency situation, and normally the licensee would reserve at least a few hours a week to itself or at least the right to program a few hours a week for itself to address its own community issues. The licensee must also be responsible for ascertaining community issues and coordinating with the programmer what kinds of programs would be appropriate to address community issues.

The FCC has case law that says the licensee must exercise control over programming and personnel and finances. The way that’s developed through case law is the licensee must have at least 2 FTE [full-time equivalent] employees or staff on site during normal business hours, one of whom must be a manager. So if FCC inspector comes knocking, there’ll be someone there who’s beholden to the licensee and not to the programmer.

…they [The licensee] have to be very involved in the oversight of the station when there’s a third-party operator providing the programming.