When do noncommercial stations stray from permissible acknowledgment of those local businesses that provide funding for its operations to impermissible commercials? That question was addressed in a Notice of Apparent Liability issued by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau on Thursday, proposing a $15,000 fine for a low power FM station whose underwriting announcements were deemed too commercial. The decision, which includes examples of the announcements deemed problematic, is must-reading for all noncommercial licensees who want to avoid fines from the FCC in connection with their underwriting acknowledgements for commercial entities.
The decision breaks down into four categories the reasons for finding the announcements in this case to be too promotional. The first category is one that often arises in connection with these announcements – the underwriting announcement uses terms that make qualitative claims about the sponsor. You can’t talk about a commercial sponsor being voted the “best” or being the “most experienced.” Talking about mechanics who are “experts” in working on certain cars, or decorators who have “an exceptional eye for the perfect arrangement” are all examples of announcements that cross the line. In this case, some of the examples of impermissible qualitative claims include a car repair shop with “certified master technicians” who use “state of the art equipment.” Another was for a new real estate company that was characterized as being “one of the fastest growing real estate companies in the country” having “23 agents and a combined experience of over 300 years” and being a “national company with a local flair” having “recruited some of the most well-known agents.” Another for a computer repair company was perhaps closer to the line but still was deemed too promotional, saying “don’t waste your time when you have a professional nerd to help make your life run easier” and “we’re not your average nerds.” In some cases, like the last one, had it been the only identified issue, the FCC may have just determined that it was an exercise of licensee judgement about what was too promotional and let it go. But in a case like this one, with so many other issues, it was identified as being a problem.
Continue Reading $15,000 FCC Fine Proposed for Underwriting Announcements that Were Too Commercial