The FCC last week proposed to fine a broadcaster for calling someone with their tape recorder running, with the intent to broadcast the taped conversation on the air.  According to the Notice of Apparent Liability issued by the FCC, the recording was stopped after the radio station announcers identified who they were, and the person who

FCC fines for violations of the FCC rules dealing with contests have been common in the last few years. Because of these fines, we recently conducted a webinar for the Kansas Association of Broadcasters, discussing the requirements of FCC rule Section 73.1216 which regulates the conduct of station-sponsored contests.  We also discussed what should be addressed

In three proposed fines issued in the last few weeks, the FCC proposed $10,000 fines for the failure of stations to have all of their required Quarterly Issues Programs Lists in their public files.  In one case, the deficiency was discovered by an FCC inspector, filing random reports missing from 2007-2009.  In two others (here

Broadcasters are not the only ones with FCC-regulated EEO obligations.  Cable system operators and other MVPDs have similar FCC EEO obligations, requiring wide dissemination of information about job openings and the maintenance of public file information.  In a decision released today, the FCC proposed a $11,000 fine to an MVPD for failing to widely disseminate information

With April Fool’s Day only a few days away, we need to repeat our annual reminder that broadcasters need to be careful with any on-air pranks, jokes or other jokes prepared especially for the day.  While a little fun is OK, remember that the FCC does have a rule against on-air hoaxes – and, of any day in the year, April 1 is the day that the broadcaster is most at risk.  The FCC’s rule against broadcast hoaxes, Section 73.1217 of the Commission’s Rules, prevents stations from running any information about a "crime or catastrophe" on the air, if the broadcaster (1) knows the information to be false, (2) it is reasonably foreseeable that the broadcast of the material will cause substantial public harm and (3) public harm is in fact caused.  Public harm is defined as "direct and actual damage to property or to the health or safety of the general public, or diversion of law enforcement or other public health and safety authorities from their duties."  Air a program deemed a hoax, and expect to be fined by the FCC.

This rule was adopted in the early 1990s after several incidents that were well-publicized in the broadcast industry, including one case where the on-air personalities at a station claimed that there was someone at the station who had taken them hostage, and another case where a station broadcast bulletins that announced that a local trash dump had exploded like a volcano, and was spewing burning trash around the local neighborhood.  In both cases, first responders were notified about the non-existent emergencies, actually responded to the notices that listeners called in, and were prevented from doing their duties responding to real emergencies.  In light of these sorts of incidents, the FCC adopted its prohibition against broadcast hoaxes.  But, as we’ve reminded broadcasters before, the FCC hoax rule is not the only reason to be wary on April 1. 

Continue Reading April Fools Gags on Air? Play It Safe, and Remember the FCC’s Hoax Rule

Yesterday, the FCC issued fines totaling $52,000 against four Class A television stations for belatedly filing their FCC Form 398 Children’s Television Programming Reports. The stations, each of which had missed at least a couple of years’ worth of Children’s Reports, were also fined for failing to timely place the reports in their public

The FCC’s main studio rules require that broadcast stations have a main studio open during normal business hours.  And, when the studio is open, it obviously needs to be manned so that someone is there to meet any visitors who my show up.  And, sometimes, those visitors are from the FCC.  When the FCC shows up, one would think that station employees would go out of their way to greet the inspectors and provide them what they want.  But in two cases decided this week, that simply didn’t seem to be the case, resulting in two notices of apparent liability proposing $10,000 fines.

One case involved a cable system (which also has a public file obligation and a duty to make the file available during normal business hours), whose employees allegedly asked FCC inspectors to return the next day when a supervisory employee would be present.  In a broadcast case, the FCC inspectors found an apparently unmanned building at what was supposed to be the station’s studio site and, when a woman arrived who was apparently the wife of the owner, rather than letting the inspectors in to the building, she told them they would have to call her husband – who did not answer his phone.  In responding to an FCC letter about the inspection that suggested that there was a violation, the licensee said that the inspectors erred by not ringing the door bell, and that employees come and go as they are needed, but are usually there during the day.  After getting that response, the FCC inspectors returned to the station to conduct another inspection, and found no doorbell, and an office that was again empty.  Obviously, these are preliminary findings of liability, and the facts and law, upon further examination, may prove to be different than what the FCC set out.  But broadcasters should take note of the FCC’s actions. 

Continue Reading When the FCC Comes Knocking, Answer the Door! – $10,000 Fines for Unattended Main Studios

In every license renewal application, applicants must certify that their operations are in compliance with the RF radiation standards set out in Section 1.1310 of the Commission’s rules. In connection with the renewal applications of two Hawaii FM stations, the FCC issued short-term one-year renewals of the station’s licenses, rather than the normal 8 year renewals. The Commission’s decision chronicles a period that spanned several years where the FCC twice found the stations to be in violation of the RF radiation rules, responding to complaints from those who worked nearby. The first time the station had reported that the problem was corrected, the FCC inspected and found that it still existed. Finally, after these inspections and FCC fines for noncompliance, the stations moved to new sites that resolved the issues.

Beyond the demonstration of how seriously the FCC takes its RF radiation rules, and how broadcasters need to be truthful and accurate in reporting on the state of their compliance, the decision shows the FCC’s process of evaluating penalties when deciding whether to issue a license renewal to an applicant with a history of rule violations. The FCC has several choices when confronted at license renewal time with violations of its rules. In many cases (like public file violations that we wrote about last week), the FCC will simply issue a fine. As in this case, the FCC can issue a short-term renewal. But, in the case of serious violations, the FCC can “designate a case for hearing”, meaning that they send the renewal application to an administrative law judge (a judge who is part of the FCC) to hold a trial-type hearing to determine if the license should be revoked. When is that most serious option pursued?

Continue Reading Short Term License Issued to Radio Stations Because of Violations of RF Radiation Rules – Showing the FCC’s Options for Penalties at License Renewal Time