In a decision fining a noncommercial radio station $7200 for failure to have several year’s worth of quarterly issues programs lists in its public inspection file, the FCC specifically stated that it does not have a reduced scale for fines for noncommercial broadcasters. Instead, noncommercial station licensees, like the college that was involved in this case, have to justify a reduction in the amount of a fine based on financial hardship by providing a financial statement for the licensee itself – not just a showing of the budget for the radio station. Thus, a college or university station that is in violation of an FCC rule, and which is issued a Notice of Apparent Liability, cannot justify a reduction in the fine merely by saying that the station cannot afford the fine – they will have to show that the institution itself is unable to pay the fine that the FCC imposes.
This case is but one of a number of noncommercial stations that have received fines in recent days. Just yesterday, another noncommercial station owned by a college was fined $7000 for not having timely filed its license renewal application. The college’s explanation that the regulatory failure was due to "poor administration" of the station didn’t fly – as the FCC is clearly not going to reduce a fine because the licensee was not paying attention to the actions of its agents. These cases and others like it demonstrate that the FCC is going to hold noncommercial stations to the same level of scrutiny as commercial operators. The days when noncommercial broadcasters could count on being treated by the FCC with a lighter regulatory touch are over. And many college, universities and other nonprofits that had not paid attention to the actions of their broadcast stations need to pay attention now, as in these days of tightened budgets, nonprofit groups can hardly afford the costs of paying an unexpected FCC fine.