Last week, the FCC issued fines to Class A TV stations which seem to have forgotten the requirements for such stations. Class A TV stations were low power television stations on which, early in the decade, Congress decided to confer "protected" status, meaning that they could not be knocked off the air by a new full-power TV station or by a change in the facilities of a full-power station. LPTV stations, by contrast, are "secondary services," meaning that they can be knocked off the air by changes in primary stations. Class A stations were given this protection if they could show that they were providing local programming, had a local studio, and otherwise complied with all the operating requirements that a full-power station station has to meet – including a manned main studio, children’s television obligations, EEO reporting, and public file requirements. Cases released last week remind these stations that they must still meet all requirements for full power stations, as the FCC fined Class A stations for main studio, public file and children’s television violations.
In one case, the FCC fined a station $1000 for violations of the main studio, main studio staffing and public file rules. The fine was originally set at $24,000 but, as the licensee demonstrated that it had no ability to pay the higher fine, the penalty was reduced to $1000. The FCC had tried to inspect the station, and was unable to obtain access to the transmitter site. The Commission staff then tried to find the station’s main studio, and found that no one answered the phone number listed for the station, there did not appear to be anyone at the address on file for the main studio location, and there was of course no access to the public file. As Commission rules require that stations have main studios in their principal service areas that are manned during normal business hours, and that stations have their public file at this location, the fine was issued.
In two other cases, the FCC found Class A stations to be in violation of the Children’s television rules. In one case, a group of Class A stations were initially fined $20,000 each because of their failure to file Children’s Television Reports for the stations for several years, and because they failed to publicize the location of the location for public inspection of their children’s television programming reports. Because these stations were financially unsuccessful, demonstrated through the filing of tax returns that showed that the stations could not pay any fine, the FCC dropped the fines entirely because of the licensee’s demonstrated inability to pay. Otherwise, the steep fines would have been levied. In another case where the stations did not prove financial hardship, the failure to have a complete public inspection file, the late filing of two years worth of Children’s Program Reports, and the failure to publicize the location of the children’s television reports will cost the licensee $9600.
These cases remind Class A licensees to remember their obligations as primary stations. Pay attention – or fines may be coming your way.