broadcast of telephone calls

In a Consent Decree released the day after Thanksgiving, the FCC agreed to accept a payment of a $35,000 penalty from a former television licensee for recording two telephone conversations for inclusion in a newscast, where the station called an outside party and recorded those conversations for inclusion in the newscast – before getting permission to do the recording.  The licensee also apparently did not fully respond to FCC inquiries about the facts of the case, leading to the $35,000 fine.  The FCC noted that the licensee had already sold the station, and was holding this money in a post-closing escrow account to be used to satisfy any fines that might arise from this conduct.

The decision is significant for several reasons.  First, it is couched in terms of privacy regulation, with a discussion of the importance of privacy regulation to the FCC in the opening paragraph (see the Public Notice that accompanied the release of the Consent Decree).  Recently, the FCC issued huge fines to independent telephone companies for not properly securing customer information – indicating a new emphasis on privacy regulation by the FCC.  Couching Friday’s consent decree in those terms indicates that privacy issues are now a high priority for the FCC.  As we have written before, privacy is a subject of interest to many other government agencies, and the recent interest of the FCC in this issue promises one more place where businesses can look for trouble should they respect the privacy of those with whom they interact, or should they not secure private information about their customers.
Continue Reading $35,000 FCC Fine for TV Station that Tapes Telephone Conversations for News Broadcast Without Prior Permission

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.


Continue Reading FCC Fines of $25,000 and $16,000 for Airing Phone Calls Without Prior Consent

Two FCC cases were released last week fining broadcasters for violations of the FCC rule against broadcasting a telephone call (or recording a call for broadcast purposes) without first obtaining the permission of the person at the other end of the call.  In one case, a licensee was fined $16,000 for phoning a woman, pretending to be a hospital calling with news that her husband had been in a motorcycle accident and had died.  The FCC refused to reduce or eliminate the fine because the call was made by an independent contractor, as the Commission found that the contractor had been hired to provide recorded "bits" for the station, and was thus not acting outside of any limits set by the licensee.  The decision also made clear that the violation occurs as soon as the person at the other end says "hello", if a recorder is running, even if the person being recorded subsequently consents to the broadcast of the call.

The size of the fine may seem surprising, but the Commission’s staff found $16,000 to be appropriate due to the fact that the same licensee had just recently been fined for a similar offense.  In another case released the same day, the fine was "only" $4000.  Here, the call was made to airport officials in the context of asking these officials questions about a local controversy.  The licensee raised a host of defenses – all of which were rejected.  First, the FCC would not eliminate the fine based on the fact that the station employee making the call had immediately identified himself as being from the station.  The licensee argued that, as the caller had identified himself as being from the station, the recipients of the calls should have known that they were on the air, and had thus implicitly consented to being broadcast as they kept talking.  The FCC rejected this argument for two reasons.  As the call was immediately put on the air, the decision found that once the "hello" was broadcast without prior permission, the station had violated the rules.  Moreover, the exception in Section 73.1206 (the rule that bans the broadcast of phone calls without permission) that allows calls to be broadcast where the person on the call can reasonably be expected to know that the call will be broadcast applies only to situations where the caller "originates the call" to the station – calling the station to be put on a program (like a talk show) that they know or should anticipate will be broadcast. 


Continue Reading $16,000 Fine For Recording Telephone Conversation for Broadcast Without Prior Permission – No Excuse Because Call Made By Independent Contractor, By Subsequent Approval, or By the First Amendment

We’ve written about the FCC rules against broadcasting phone calls without permission of the person at the other end of the line.  Specifically, we’ve written about the FCC’s decision that held that these rules prevent the broadcast of people’s voicemail messages without their permission, and about the FCC’s decision to fine a station even though