Looking for our new site?

Media Policy Initiative

Public Interest Obligations

Publication Image

The FCC is charged with the authority to grant the right to radio and television broadcasters to serve the public interest. As a result, private stations are able to use the public airwaves for commercial broadcasts, which begs the question: What do broadcasters owe the public in return? It’s a hard question to answer, but not just for ethical or theoretical reasons. Regulations have been in a near-constant state of flux ever since radio wave access was codified with the Radio Act of 1927, and later, the Telecommunications Act of 1934. The FCC and broadcasters have entered agreements with the understanding that broadcasters could serve the public good, as our colleagues have previously noted, but the definition of "public good" is open ended and the most recent rules proposed in 2008, have yet to take effect.

Today, the FCC requires that all radio and TV broadcasters must compile certain documents that record their public service programming and make publicly available others, such as files on pending litigation, in order to maintain their broadcasting licenses. Since each broadcast licensee is expected to locate its main studio within its principal community signal contour, these files should be accessible to the community its broadcasts serve. Commercial or noncommercial, every station must maintain public files that include the following parts: applications and related materials filed with the Commission, ownership reports, employment reports, a list of programs aired by the stations during the previous three months that provided its most significant treatment of community issues, a separate "political file" documenting requests for broadcast time made by or on behalf of candidates for public office, information on children's educational and informational programming. 
 
Here are two maps of television stations. The first provides clickable links to all stations and the second has links only to stations where we have collected and scanned public files. Both of these maps are courtesy of the Community Media Database created and managed by Rob McCausland.
 
All Full Power Television Stations 
 
 
Full power Television stations where we have links to their files
 
To access the map with additional options do click here.
 
Below are links to the files we've collected to data and are providing as a public resource for viewing records of the public interest obligations from stations around the country. For more information on what we're gathering, see our blog post.
 
Public File Information Collected to date
 
District of Columbia
    WUSA 1st Qtr 2010 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
 
California
    Los Angeles
    KNBC 3rd Qtr 2009 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
 
Hawaii
    KFVE 3rd Qtr 2011Quarterly list of programming
    KGMB 3rd Qtr 2011 Quarterly list of programming
    KHNL 3rd Qtr 2011Quarterly list of programming 
 
Minnesota
    KFAI 3rd-4th Qtr 2009, 1st-2nd Qtr 2010 Public Affairs Reporting
    KSTC  1st Qtr 2010 Issues and Programs Report
    KSTC 2nd Qtr 2010 Issues and Programs Report
    KSTP 1st Qtr 2010 Issues and Programs Report
    KSTP 2nd Qtr 2010 Issues and Programs Report
    MPR 2nd Qtr 2010 Programming Report
    TPT 3rd Qtr 2009 Quarterly Listing of the Most Substantial Treatment of Community Issues
    TPT 4th Qtr 2009 Quarterly Listing of the Most Substantial Treatment of Community Issues
    TPT 1st Qtr 2010 Quarterly Listing of the Most Substantial Treatment of Community Issues
    TPT 2nd Qtr 2010 Quarterly Listing of the Most Substantial Treatment of Community Issues
 
New York
    WNYW 4th Qtr 2011 Issues and Programs Report (Collected by @FreePress volunteers)
 
New Jersey
 
North Carolina
    WNCN 1st Qtr 2010 (Part 1, Part 2)
    WNCN 2nd Qtr 2010 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
 
Oregon
    KOIN 4th Qtr 2011 Issues and Programs Report (Collected by @FreePress volunteers)
 
Pennsylvania
    WYOU 1st Qtr 2010 (Part 1 and 2, Part 3, Part 4)
 
Other background documents
 
Federal Communications Commission:
New America Foundation:
The Benton Foundation:
Media Access Project:  

Related Files