FCC Enforcement Bureau

Here are some of the regulatory and legal actions and developments of the last week of significance to broadcasters, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC released the agenda and items to be considered at its October 27 Open Meeting.

In July, we wrote about the FCC’s plan to transfer the responsibility for EEO enforcement from the Media Bureau, where it has resided, to the Enforcement Bureau which the FCC suggested would have more resources and experience to aggressively enforce the FCC’s EEO rules and policies.  That transfer was effective on Friday (see the

One million dollars is still a big fine, even though the FCC has been handing out fines for that amount, or more, many times in recent months. But fines rarely hit these levels for broadcasters. But, yesterday, the FCC issued such a fine – hitting iHeart Media with a $1 Million fine as part of a Consent Decree imposed for the inappropriate use of EAS tones in the Bobby Bones syndicated radio program. The program was being run on 82 stations across the country. According to the FCC’s order approving the Consent Decree and imposing the associated fine and compliance plan, the broadcast of those tones triggered EAS alerts across several states – principally at stations and cable systems that had not activated the ability of the EAS system to recognize the date of an alert (the program rebroadcast the FCC’s first national EAS test, a test that was conducted almost 3 years before the Bones broadcast).

As with many other recent cases where the FCC has imposed heavy fines on broadcasters and cable programmers for use of EAS tones in entertainment broadcasts (see our articles here, here, here, and here tracing the history of the FCC’s escalating penalties for this kind of violation over the last few years), the FCC sees these matters as threats to public health and safety, as the public could react adversely to these EAS alerts that were not tied to real emergencies (or be desensitized by repeated false alerts to the importance of real alerts). The FCC’s News Release announcing the adoption of the Consent Decree makes exactly this point – the misuse of EAS alerts are threats to the public safety.
Continue Reading FCC Fines iHeart Media $1,000,000 for Broadcasting EAS Alert Tones When there was No Emergency – What the Big Fine Says to Broadcasters

In another sign of just how closely the FCC monitors contests conducted by broadcast stations, the FCC this week issued a Notice of Apparent Liability (a notice of a fine of $4000) to Nassau Broadcasting for being imprecise in the wording of the contest rules for a contest to be held at one of its stations.  In the rules of the contest, the station stated that entries would be accepted "through June 13, 2008."  In fact, the contest was conducted on the evening of June 12, and the station cut off entries to the contest on June 12.  When a listener went to enter the contest on June 13, and was told that she could not enter as the prize had already been awarded, the listener filed a complaint at the FCC.  The FCC, reading the language "through June 13" to mean that listeners could enter the contest up to and including that day, fined the licensee $4000 for misleading its listeners as to the proper rules for the contest it conducted.  This is another indication of just how seriously the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau is taking the enforcement of Section 73.1216 of the Commission’s rules, which requires licensees "to fully and accurately disclose the material terms" of any contests that it conducts, and to "conduct the contest substantially as announced or advertised."  Broadcasters need to be very precise in their wording of contest rules, and make sure that they carefully observe the details of the rules that they adopt.

In this case, it seems likely that the licensee was simply imprecise in its wording – stating that entries would be taken "through June 13" when it meant "before June 13."  This would have seemed evident from the fact that the rules said that the winner would be announced on the morning show on June 13.  Clearly, if the winner was going to be announced on the morning of June 13, it wouldn’t do much good entering after that time.  But the ambiguity in the rules is construed by the FCC against the party who prepared the rules – as is evident from the finding in this case that these rules did not fully and accurately describe the rules of the contest (and actually holding the contest on the night of the 12th instead of the morning of the 13th probably didn’t help much).  So what should a broadcaster do to make sure that this kind of ambiguity does not hit them in one of their contests?

Continue Reading A $4000 Fine After a Complaint About a Broadcast Contest – Make Sure that Contest Rules are Precise