The FCC today announced a $1,000,000 Consent Decree with Univision Radio to settle payola investigations underway at both the FCC and the Department of Justice. Payola, or "pay for play" as it is called in the FCC Press Release issued today, is a violation of FCC rules and Federal criminal law, which both prohibit the broadcast of program content for which payment was received without disclosing the receipt of that consideration. The payment of money to programming employees in exchange for the playing of certain music on the radio has been the situation where pay-for-play has received the most publicity. Where payment is made for playing a song, without acknowledging to the public that the station’s decision to play the music was based on payments and not on the station’s determination of the merit of the music being played, then a violation exists. In many cases, it is station employees who receive the payment, sometime unknown to station management. But where the station has not taken sufficient steps to guard against pay-for-play situations by its employees, the licensee can still face penalties. The Consent Decree sets out specific steps for Univision to take to make sure that the situations alleged to have occurred at the company’s stations don’t reoccur in the future.
The Consent Decree is virtually identical to the $12.5 million in settlements reached three years ago with four of the country’s largest radio broadcast companies. At that time, we published an advisory that explored each of the provisions of the Consent Decree and the obligations that it imposed on the broadcasters that were involved – and suggested that all stations use it as a Guide to their operations to insure that they, too, don’t find themselves facing a similar situation in the future. As payola seems to run in cycles, check out our Guide and make sure that you are taking steps to insure compliance with the FCC rules and policies on payola.