FCC Locks the Front Door as Broadcasters Adapt to a Coronavirus World
The FCC announced this afternoon that “effective immediately, [we] will no longer allow visitors into our facilities, absent special permission from the Office of Managing Director.” However, that announcement, strange as it would be under normal circumstances, was of no particular importance. That’s because the same document noted that, starting tomorrow, the FCC is asking its staff to telework. Whether you get through the front door isn’t too important when there is no one inside the building to meet.
Broadcasters are also moving quickly to adapt to a world where no matter how strange your day was, tomorrow’s developments will make it seem unremarkable. For example, noncommercial college radio stations whose campuses have suddenly shut down are learning about Section 73.561(a) of the FCC’s Rules, which eliminates the requirement that such stations maintain a minimum operating schedule “during those days designated on the official school calendar as vacation or recess periods.”
Meanwhile, NAB, among many, many others, is looking to mitigate the damage resulting from cancelled or postponed events. If you are a broadcaster that was sponsoring a concert or other event that now isn’t going to happen, you might want to check out the Advisory from Pillsbury’s Insurance Practice regarding the scope of Event Cancellation Insurance policies (and kudos to that group for presciently publishing an Advisory over a month ago titled Insuring Against the Business Risks of Coronavirus).
But what about broadcasters just doing their best to go forward with their day to day business? Well, some may go into a pool reporting model with other local stations to minimize the number of reporters being crammed into rooms with newsmakers while keeping the public informed. Others are putting together contingency plans for when a staffer starts coughing, returns from an international trip, or is bragging about how much they enjoyed their recent cruise ship vacation.
Such planning is, however, quite complicated, as employment laws won’t necessarily let you send someone home for two unpaid weeks just because they coughed. For those doing such planning, you might want to take a look at this recent Advisory, which discusses effective steps you can take in the workplace without simultaneously putting your station in violation of labor laws.
Hopefully by now you’ve begun to pick up a theme, which is simply that dealing with the fallout of coronavirus is a complex and diverse endeavor for all businesses, but particularly so for broadcasters. Those with significant news operations don’t have the option of sending everyone to work from home for a couple of weeks. That makes the task of keeping your employees safe, your audience informed, and your station solvent all the more challenging. The FCC may be able to telework efficiently, but for those that can’t, the days ahead will be difficult, and more so for those that aren’t planning ahead now.