The FCC today issued a Forfeiture Order imposing a $30,000 fine on the licensee of three television stations for the stations’ failure to publicize the existence and location of the Children’s Television Reports for the Stations. Even at a rate of $10,000 per station, this fine is significant and should serve as a loud, clear reminder to all television stations to publicize the existence and location of their FCC Form 398 Children’s Television Reports. The FCC considers the reports, which are filed quarterly with the FCC, as an important resource for parents and the community. And as is clear from today’s decision, the FCC takes the requirement that stations inform viewers about the existence of these reports very seriously. While stations make a certification each quarter as part of the Form 398 that they are publicizing the reports and informing folks about where copies can be obtained, stations should take a moment to confirm that they are, in fact, following this regulation.
In the case decided today, the licensee itself had brought the issue to the Commission’s attention as part of its license renewal application. In connection with its renewal filing, the licensee discovered that it had inadvertently failed to publicize the existence and location of the reports during the entire license term. As required, it disclosed that issue on its renewal application. Despite the fact that the violation was voluntarily disclosed and was claimed to be based on a misunderstanding, however, the Commission ignored the request for a reduction of the proposed forfeiture and hit the station with a fine of $10,000 per station, finding a repeated and willful violation of the Commission’s Rules.
Thus, television stations should make sure that they are following this rule by running periodic spots on the station, placing information and links on their websites, and publicizing the Form 398 Reports in any other fashion they see fit. While the Commission has provided little, if any, guidance over the years about exactly how stations should publicize this information, or how often spots should be run on the station, what is abundantly clear from today’s decision is that stations need to do something throughout the course of their license term to make viewers in their community aware that the Children’s Programming Reports exist and that they are available for public review, both on the Commission’s website and in the station’s public inspection file. With changes in personnel, software, and equipment that inevitably occurs at stations over time, this is a good time for stations to confirm that their procedures are still in place and are actually being followed to publicize the Children’s Reports. A full copy of today’s decision is available here.