The FCC yesterday released an order fining a public broadcaster $10,000 for failing to prepare and place in its public file 13 consecutive quarterly issues programs lists. The licensee had pleaded that the radio station fine should be reduced given that the public file failure began when it acquired the station from a local college that was about to shut the station down as it was not financially viable for the college. After its rescue from being shut down, the station had a significant drop in staffing and budget. The licensee suggested that, given the circumstance, and as a first-time offender who did not mean to violate the rules, it should be assessed a lower fine. The FCC rejected those arguments, finding that without making a showing of financial hardship (which the licensee apparently did not do even after having been prompted by the FCC staff several times), there was no reason to lower the amount of the proposed fine.
It was interesting that the FCC did not discuss in its decision its recent line of cases (about which we wrote here) where it has shown some degree of leniency to noncommercial, student-run radio stations affiliated with academic institutions who have failures in meeting their FCC paperwork burdens. While those cases were explicitly limited to student-run radio stations who were first-time offenders on paperwork issues (see the larger fine we wrote about here when the violation dealt with technical issues), the situation would seem analogous to this station which the licensee said was staffed by “a handful of employees and volunteers” and run on “an eviscerated budget being raised virtually on a day-to-day basis.” Nevertheless, the case shows that, if you are a struggling station run on a shoe-string budget and hit with an FCC fine, be sure to prove your financial hardship – especially if that showing is requested by the FCC staff – or expect to be hit with a full FCC fine.