Do Public Broadcasting Stations Keep ALL Public Comments
March 22, 2015 3:18 PM   Subscribe

During fund drives, I'm always told the positive comments of listeners who support the mission of public broadcasting and the drives that pays for the public radio and TV stations to operate. But I recently heard a public radio volunteer say he thinks public TV gets up to 40% negative comments and public radio gets about 10% negative comments.

There is an FCC guide outlining the records a broadcast station must keep for public inspection, and regarding public "letters", it says:

"All written comments and suggestions from the public regarding station operation, unless the writer asks that the letter not be made public or the licensee excludes the letter due to the nature of its content (e.g., if it is defamatory or obscene). E-mails must also be made available (on paper or electronically), other than personal e-mails to station employees. Where multiple people send the same letter, the file needs to include only a copy of the e-mail and a list of the senders."

Assuming there are public comments that don't support fund drives but are not obscene or defamatory, should those public comments be in the public inspection file and is a station responsible if they aren't?
posted by CollectiveMind to Law & Government (3 answers total)
I'm not sure where you are reading that, but my read of the FCC requirements of the Public Inspection File is that it seems to exempt non-profit stations. Emphasis mine.
Letters and E-Mails from the Public. Commercial stations must keep in their files, for at least three years, written comments, suggestions, and e-mails received from the public regarding their operation. (Noncommercial educational stations are not subject to this requirement.) This obligation is limited to comments, suggestions, and e-mails sent to station management or a publicized station address. Letters need not be placed in the public inspection file when the author has requested that the letter not be made public or when the licensee feels that it should be excluded from public inspection because of the nature of its content (such as defamatory or obscene letters). Moreover, although television stations that post their public file materials on their websites must include e-mails received from the public, they need not post letters from the public, as long as they include hard copies of such letters in their public files, and a notice on their website that the letters can be located in the file. As noted above, all or a part of a station public file may be maintained on a computer database, as long as a computer terminal is made available, at the location of the file, for members of the public who wish to review the file. Accordingly, as an alternative to maintaining hard copies of e-mails in the public file, a station may place the e- mails on a computer database, as long as a terminal is made available at the location of the public file to members of the public who wish to review the file.
posted by jessamyn at 3:26 PM on March 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: OK, thanks. I missed that exclusion. But now I wonder if good comments are kept in "a" file or "the" public file at the station's discretion to the exclusion of the not so good ones. It seems like a question worthy of asking.
posted by CollectiveMind at 3:41 PM on March 22, 2015

My read on that is that unless someone has asked for their letter to be withheld for privacy purposes or a letter is obscene, it's supposed to be in there. Though the licensee has some discretion. But who is overseeing that? Likely no one unless there's a concern. I get what you are getting at, but it looks like public broadcasting stations don't have to keep them at all so it's sort of a moot point. You can, if you're interested, poke around this page and look at the stuff the FCC does enforce. Or you can view a few incidents on this page. This is is all about the inspection file but mostly about other stuff not in it.

Here's the Federal Code, it seems a little more clear that it's all letters unless requested otherwise. To your scenario, it's pretty easy to test isn't it? Write a letter, see if you can find it in the PI file later. If not, contact the FCC and see if they care.

Its also worth nothing that stations may have a selection of letters made available via a database and the complete collection available in hard copy. It looks like there's been a transition and certain material needs to be made available both electronically and in hard copy but I think public letters don't have to be.
posted by jessamyn at 6:03 PM on March 22, 2015

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