The FCC has once again proposed a $10,000 fine against a college radio station missing quarterly issues/program lists in the public inpsection file.  This time, the culprit is Rollins College, a small liberal arts college in Florida with 1700 students. 

We know that $10,000 is the "base forfeiture" for failure to maintain a complete public inspection file, and this is not the first time the FCC has proposed this fine for a college radio station.  But we have questioned before whether a $10,000 fine is appropriate for this type of violation and the amount seems even more egregious when it is levied against a small noncommercial educational college radio station.  It is the same fine that would be levied against a major commercial television network station located in New York City for the same violation.

Yes, rules are rules and they should be followed by all FCC licensed broadcast stations.  But as Dave Seyler notes in a thoughtful piece written for Radio Business Report, it may not be in the best interests of the federal government to "siphon money out of our educational system."  In this case, as in other similar cases, the college received no warning following an FCC inspection…just the fine. Continue Reading Does $10,000 Fine Make Sense for Small College Radio Station Missing Public File Documents?

The FCC has issued a Forfeiture Order, confirming a $4000 fine levied against a Minneapolis TV station for airing a video news release ("VNR") without sponsorship identification.  This case was previously discussed in our March 25th blog entry, when the Commission issued a Notice of Apparent Liability ("NAL") against the station for this violation.  The primary lesson to be learned from this decision is that video supplied for free may require sponsorship ID if furnished for the purpose of identifying a product or furthering a sponsor’s message beyond any independent (i.e., newsworthy) reason a station has for airing it.

In arguing against the NAL, the station put forth several arguments, all of which were rejected by the FCC.  The station argued that its use of a video supplied by General Motors for a story about the popularity of convertibles in the summer was equivalent to use of a company press release, which the FCC has found acceptable in the past.  But the FCC said that use of a press release without sponsorship ID is permitted only if references to products or brand names are "transient or fleeting."  Here, by contrast, the FCC found the identification of GM cars to be "disproportionate to the subject matter of the news report."Continue Reading FCC Confirms $4000 Fine For Televising Video News Release Without Sponsorship ID

The Commission today released yet another forfeiture for what has become an increasingly common oversight among broadcasters — the failure to timely file a license renewal application for a satellite earth station.  What made today’s forfeiture unique, however, is the fact that the Commission proposed to double the amount of the forfeiture based on the size of the broadcast licensee and its presumed ability to pay such a fine.  After balancing all the factors, the Commission ultimately ratcheted the fine down a bit, but in the end it assessed a $25,000 fine for the failure to timely file license renewal applications for two earth stations and for the continued operation of those facilities without proper authority.  In light of today’s decision, broadcasters should be sure to review and track the expiration dates for all FCC authorizations. 

The FCC’s decision in this case makes clear that in imposing a large fine in this case it is attempting to send a message that the Licensee will heed.  Per the Commission’s decision:  "This $16,000 forfeiture amount [the baseline forfeiture]  is subject to adjustment, however.  In this regard, we consider the size of the violator and ability to pay a forfeiture, as well as its prior violation of the same rule sections before us today.  To ensure that forfeiture liability is a deterrent, and not simply a cost of doing business, the Commission has determined that large or highly profitable companies such as [Licensee] , could expect the assessment of higher forfeitures for violations, and that prior violations of the same or other regulations would also be a factor contributing to upward adjustment of apparent liability.  Given [Licensee’s] size and its ability to pay a forfeiture, coupled with its previous violation, we conclude that an upward adjustment of the base forfeiture amount to $32,000 is appropriate."  [Emphasis added.]  In reaching its decision, the Commission noted that the Licensee in this case was a large broadcaster with "net yearly sales" of over $110 million.  

This forfeiture should serve as a clear warning to broadcasters both big and small to review and track the expiration dates of any earth stations or other authorizations held by a broadcast station.  Rarely (if ever) will the license term of an earth station authorization coincide with the renewal of the parent broadcast station, which means it is easy for the earth station to slip through the cracks.  Continue Reading Broadcasters Beware: Failure to Timely Renew Earth Stations Can Draw Large Fines