The FCC’s recent action reforming many of the rules governing the broadcast of TV programming serving the educational and informational needs of children will go into effect on September 16 (see our articles here and here). Yet, at the same time as it was announcing the process by which these rules will be implemented (see our post from yesterday), it released two consent decrees resolving apparent violations of the old KidVid rules revealed in license renewal applications filed many years ago. In one case, the FCC agreed to a financial penalty of $109,000 to be paid by Nexstar in connection with violations at two stations – one in Arkansas and one in Texas. These violations apparently first arose in connection with license renewals filed almost 15 years ago. In another case involving a religious commercial station in Pullman, Washington, the financial penalty was $30,700 for violations that were identified in connection with its 2014 license renewal application. In both cases, the licensees agreed, in addition to the financial penalties, to institute compliance plans to ensure that future violations of the children’s television rules do not occur at any commonly owned stations.
The Consent Decree entered into by the Washington station penalized the station for preempting children’s programming for station fundraisers so that it did not meet the obligation to air an average of 3 hours of weekly “core programming” addressing children’s educational and informational needs. Certain supplemental programming claimed by the station to substitute for the underperformance was aired outside of the hours in which “core programming” must air to receive credit toward a station’s obligations (currently those hours are 7 AM to 10 PM, but they will expand to 6 AM to 10 PM on September 16). The FCC also identified errors in the Quarterly Children’s Television Reports submitted by the station (as we reported yesterday, these reports will be replaced by an annual filing after the final quarterly report that is due by October 10).
The issues raised against the Nexstar stations also involved inadequate amounts of core programming, principally due to network preemptions for sports events. According to the FCC, in some instances the preempted programming was not rescheduled by the station. The FCC also noted that several Quarterly Reports were not filed on time and the stations also failed to admit to the shortfalls in their license renewal applications. For one station, the company also admitted to failing to provide program guide publishers with information about the core programs that were broadcast (instead relying on the networks and syndicators to provide that information which apparently was not done – thus the FCC imposed the penalty on the station, which has the responsibility for compliance).
With license renewals coming up for television stations starting in June 2020, broadcasters should be scrutinizing their past performance now to identify any problems that may exist so that they can determine how such issues will be addressed in the license renewal application. In some of these cases, it appears that the FCC was not able to rely on information in the stations’ renewal applications, but instead had to review the Quarterly Reports and seek other information from the stations, perhaps contributing to the long delays in the processing of these license renewals. To avoid the uncertainty with long-delayed license renewals, start planning for renewals now, and be sure that your station is complying with all of its children’s television obligations.