How to deal with a noncommercial radio station’s public inspection file when the station is licensed to a college and has a main studio in a restricted-access student residence hall is a question that I have received repeatedly when I have conducted sessions on FCC rules at noncommercial broadcasters’ conventions and meetings.  In a consent decree reached with a college and announced by the FCC on Friday, the FCC’s Media Bureau has suggested how this issue should be dealt with – by asking for a waiver of the Commission’s rules to allow the file to be maintained at another campus building which has access for the public during normal business hours.

In that case, the Bucknell University station had its main studio in a residence hall not open to the public, and it kept its public file at the student center, another campus building to which the public had access.  While the station posted a sign at the entrance to the residence hall where the main studio was housed that the public file was at the student center, and instructed campus security that this was where anyone who asked for the file should be directed, the college had not asked the FCC for a waiver of Section 73.3527(b)(1),  which requires that the public file of a noncommercial station be kept at the main studio of the station.  In the Consent Decree, the FCC agreed to waive the FCC rules to allow the public file to remain at the student center location, balancing the needs of the public for access to the file with the security needs of the college.  Nevertheless, the licensee made a $2200 “contribution” to the US treasury for not having previously asked for a waiver of the rules to locate the files at a location other than its main studio, and for also failing to include in its files Quarterly Issues Programs lists for several years during the license renewal term in which these issues arose.
Continue Reading The Location of the Public Inspection File of a College Radio Station When the Station’s Main Studio is in a Building Not Open to the General Public Addressed in FCC Consent Decree

The FCC proposed that a noncommercial broadcaster be fined $10,000 for its failure to allow a visitor unquestioned and immediate access to the public inspection files for 6 noncommercial radio stations operated from the same main studio. Though the delay in allowing access was only a few hours long, that delay, together with questions asked of the person who requested access as to his reasons for the inspections, led to the Notice of Apparent Liability issued by the FCC. In the decision, the Commission reminded all broadcasters that their obligation is to make the file available immediately upon a request made during normal business hours. The person inspecting the file cannot be asked why they want to see the file, or for their business or professional affiliation.

In this case, an individual apparently representing a competing broadcaster showed up at the station at about 10:30 in the morning. While it was disputed as to whether the individual immediately asked the receptionist to see the public file,  or whether he simply asked to talk to the general manager of the station, the Commission found that both parties agreed that, when the general manager was reached by phone, the individual did ask to see the file. The general manager did not immediately tell his staff to allow inspection of the file, instead telling the visitor that the manager would return to the office at about noon, and the file could be seen then. It was that delay – putting the visitor off for a few hours- that the Commission found was sufficient to trigger the violation. In the decision, the FCC went further to make this case instructive for broadcasters by laying out some of the specifics of the obligations of a broadcaster to allow access to its public file.


Continue Reading Noncommercial Radio Operator Fined $10,000 for Not Providing Immediate Access to Public File – FCC Provides A Good Primer on the Public File Rules for All Radio Broadcasters

The FCC released a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture today, proposing a $10,000 fine against a public TV station in Los Angeles for requiring an appointment to view the station’s public inspection file. This case shows how seriously the FCC takes the requirement of open and unfettered access to a broadcast station’s public file.  An FCC agent visited the station’s main studio twice without identifying himself as an FCC employee.  Both times, the station’s security guard refused to let him see the station’s public inspection file or speak with the station manager without an appointment.

On the third visit, the FCC agent identified himself as such and was allowed to view the station’s public inspection file "after a thorough examination of the agent’s badge and several phone calls to [station] personnel." 

The public inspection file was found to be complete. However, the station was fined $10,000 for "willfully and repeatedly" failing to make the public inspection file available.  The FCC stressed that "stations cannot require members of the public to make appointments to access a station’s public inspection file."


Continue Reading FCC Fines TV Station $10,000 for Requring Appointment to View Public Inspection File

In a decision just released, the FCC fined a noncommercial FM station $8000 for failing to make its public inspection file available when it was requested.  The FCC made clear that past cases where a noncommercial station was given only an admonition for similar violations were no longer good law, finding that the public file was an important part of the station’s obligations to the public and the failure to make it available was a serious violation.  This case should serve as a warning to all stations, commercial and noncommercial, that they need to have people at the station at all times who know where the public file is located, and that all visitors who request access to the file need to be given such access.

This case was perhaps a bit more egregious than most, as the visitor who requested access to the fine was known to the station, as the person was employed by a college that had tried unsuccessfully to buy the station.  After its request to purchase the station was turned down, the prospective buyer had allegedly filed a number of pleadings at the FCC trying to force the licensee to sell the station.  When the person appeared at the station to request access to the public file, the person was first told to return another day.  After protesting that was illegal, an official of the College which is the station licensee, arrived at the scene and told the visitor that he had to leave, and could only view the public file after having made a prior appointment with the college’s attorney.  When reached by phone, the attorney allegedly told the visitor to leave the premises or he would be arrested.  Only when he returned another day, after being initially turned down yet again, was the visitor eventually able to persuade the station employees that refusal to give him access to the file was illegal.  When he was finally able to gain access to the file, he stated that he found it to be incomplete.


Continue Reading $8000 FCC Fine for Noncommercial Station Not Making Public Inspection File Available Upon Request