Fox News Seeking Exemption From FCC’s Audio Description Rules

Jan 07, 2024

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Jan. 7, 2024 – A second major cable news channel is seeking an exemption from federal video description rules intended to help millions who are either blind or visual impaired.

Fox News – the top-rated cable network overall for the past eight years – is asking for the exemption from the Federal Communications Commission, joining MNBC in asserting that the agency’s rules have traditionally excluded networks that offer little in the way of recorded programming.

The FCC has rules that require some top-rated cable networks to supply audio descriptions, but Fox and MSNBC maintain that because they offer so many hours of live programming, they qualify for an exemption.

“The Fox News programming schedule varies slightly from week to week, but nearly all of its prime-time schedule consists of live or near live programming,” the network said in a Dec. 29 filing.

Fox News Channel’s prime time lineup includes highly-rated news and commentary shows anchored by star personalities Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Greg Gutfeld.

On its website the FCC says “audio description is audio-narrated descriptions of a television program's key visual elements. These descriptions are inserted into natural pauses in the program's dialogue. Audio description makes TV programming more accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 6 million Americans have vision loss and 1 million have blindness.

Under the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, cable and satellite TV providers with at least 50,000 subscribers are required to provide 87.5 hours of audio description per calendar quarter, between 6 a.m. and midnight, on each of the top five non-broadcast networks that they carry.

The FCC has in the past excluded from the top-five list cable channels that do provide at least 50 hours per quarter of recorded programming during prime time.

“Fox News qualifies for exclusion from the list of networks subject to the audio description rules because it does not provide, on average, at least 50 hours per quarter of non-exempt prime-time programming (i.e., programming that is not live or near live), as defined by the [FCC],” Fox said in its filing.

Citing data from the Nielsen Company, the FCC said in a Nov. 30 public notice that the top ten non-broadcast networks for the 2022 to 2023 ratings year were: Fox News Channel, ESPN, MSNBC, HGTV, Hallmark, TLC, TNT, TBS, Discovery, and History.

Networks that believe they do not belong on the list were required to seek exemptions, the FCC said. MSNBC’s Dec. 22 request for an exemption was also based on the fact that the channel airs mostly live programming.