The “public files,” a little-known but rich trove of teeth-gnashing, hand-wringing and sometimes heartfelt correspondence that all television and radio outlets must maintain and make available for viewing, under federal law.
Besides letters, the public file includes nuts-and-bolts information about each station, including descriptions of its programs and Federal Communications Commission license, and information on political advertisement spending. At some stations the files fill multiple binders, or several stacks of cabinets.
The idea, perhaps quaint in the era of cable television and the Internet, is to make the stations, which broadcast over the public’s airwaves, answerable to the public.
And in the spirit of accountability, the stations are required to make the files available to anyone who walks in the door and requests them during normal business hours.
But not every station does so.
So want to have some fun with your local radio or TV station? Go in, unannounced and ask to see the “Public File”.
You must, by Federal Law, be allowed to see it and look at all it contains, during regular business hours.
You will find, as the authors of this article did, that you will often be greeted with blank looks, or outright turned down. Doesn’t matter how big or how small that station is. They are supposed to have a smooth, well oiled system for this and often don’t
Not to blow my horn but when I was in charge it was done by the book-we got hit by an F.C.C. inspector once while I was at sea on a cruise and his comment to the G.M. was that we were “in perfect compliance.”
Not a big deal but certainly good to know.