Yesterday, the FCC issued fines totaling $52,000 against four Class A television stations for belatedly filing their FCC Form 398 Children’s Television Programming Reports. The stations, each of which had missed at least a couple of years’ worth of Children’s Reports, were also fined for failing to timely place the reports in their public inspection files. (If the Reports were not prepared and filed on time, then they similarly weren’t placed in the file at the right time). The forfeitures all have essentially the same set of facts as this one. The Commission had previously notified the licensees that their stations were missing Form 398 Reports and offered the “opportunity” for the station to avoid the issue by simply voluntarily reverting to a secondary LPTV station. While this would have potentially avoided the issue of the missing Children’s Television Reports, it would have left the stations as secondary facilities and without the primary status protection afforded to Class A television stations and full power TV stations. Such protection is critically important in light of the recent grant of authority for incentive auctions, as only Class A and full power TV stations are allowed to participate in the auction and are explicitly protected in the legislation. (See our earlier discussion regarding the incentive auction authority here.) LPTV stations, which did not receive such protection in the statute, are simply secondary services meaning that they can be moved or modified as the Commission sees fit. That authority will likely come in handy if and when it comes time for the FCC to repack the television spectrum, as it will have greater flexibility in moving or changing protections for LPTV stations.
Rather than accepting the chance to revert to low power status, the stations in these cases corrected their oversight and filed the missing Form 398 reports. Despite responding to the Commisison’s earlier letters and following up to file the missing reports, however, the FCC nonetheless issued the hefty forfeitures. Recently, we wrote about a number of “Show Cause Orders" issued by the FCC directing 16 Class A television stations to respond and demonstrate why the stations shouldn’t be downgraded to LPTV status (see our earlier post here). The stations subject to those Show Cause orders apparently failed to respond to the FCC’s letter about missing children’s reports. With yesterday’s forfeiture, it appears there is no good choice for a station that overlooked the obligation to file the children’s reports, and these fines serve as an important reminder of the obligations of Class A television stations.
As we noted in our post last week, all Class A licensees would be well advised to review their FCC compliance efforts to avoid falling victim to the FCC’s spectrum clearance process. The FCC has stated clearly that Class A licensees are required to comply with many full power TV requirements, including the need to maintain a main studio and a public inspection file, to comply with children’s programming requirements, political programming requirements, station identification requirements and Emergency Alert System rules. Failure to comply with any of these requirements could result in loss of Class A status. While the fines issues yesterday are hefty, losing the station’s Class A primary status could be even more costly.