Two big fines for the broadcast of telephone conversations without first getting consent of the person at the other end of the phone were released by the FCC today, and each raises a number of interesting issues. Section 73.1206 of the FCC’s rules prohibits the broadcast, or recording for purposes of broadcast, of telephone calls without first getting the consent of the person on the other end of the phone. In the first case released this week, a broadcaster was fined $25,000 for the broadcast of two phone calls on two commonly-owned stations. In the second case, the same broadcaster was fined $16,000 for a violation of the rule at a different station. These cases are very interesting in that they address and reject many defenses to the fines that were raised by the broadcaster.
The $25,000 fine came in the follow up to a Notice of Apparent Liability which we wrote about here. In this case, a station was accused of airing two calls in a program called “You Fell For It.” A complaint alleged that the station called individuals and put them on the air without notice. The licensee first attempted to defend against the claim on the grounds that the person who complained was not one of the people who was called and put on the air without consent. The FCC found that this was not necessary – any listener to the station could complain about a violation of the rules. The FCC found that this rule is not one where the only complaint can come from the individual harmed by being put on the air – though the FCC does not present any policy basis of why the rule should be enforced if the individuals who are apparently being protected (individuals who want to preserve their privacy by not going on the air) do not complain about the station’s conduct.