In another of a series of recent decisions, a regional field office of the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability, proposing to fine a licensee $10,000 for missing seven Quarterly Programs Issues lists in its public file. As there have been so many recent cases raising the same issue, why mention this case? We highlight it here because of the excuse used by the licensee to try to get out of the fine – the licensee claimed that it was fault of a former employee who was responsible for the file, and that person must have messed up (lost the reports, not prepared them or something along those lines). The FCC rejected that argument (not for the first time), finding that the licensee, not any particular employee, is ultimately responsible for FCC rule compliance. Thus, owners need to make sure not only that they have given FCC compliance responsibility for specific FCC obligations to a specific employee, but they also need to be responsible for ensuring that the assigned employee is in fact doing his or her job. If there is a failure to meet an FCC obligation, the responsibility (in terms of the FCC fine) will almost always land on the shoulders of the FCC licensee. So delegate – but do so responsibly, and remember to check to make sure that the employees are doing correctly the tasks which they have been assigned.
The FCC also refused to make any adjustment in the amount of the fine, given that the licensee had admitted public file deficiencies in its last license renewal application. Given a previous history of noncompliance, the FCC was not willing to adjust the fine. With the upcoming license renewal cycle, licensees who have previous problems with FCC compliance should be particularly attuned to this admonition – as the FCC seems unwilling to show any leniency to repeat offenders (see our summary of another recent case where the FCC actually adjusted a fine upwards from the amount suggested in the FCC’s schedule of base fines, based on a 13 year old violation for a similar offense).