FCC forfeiture schedule

In a decision released this week, the FCC fined a Chicago radio station $44,000 for omitting sponsorship identification announcements on 11 on-air spots promoting the positions of the sponsoring organization on certain issues facing the local community.  Finding that the purpose of the sponsorship identification rules (Section 317 of the Communications Act and Section 73.1212 of the FCC rules) is to allow the station’s listeners to know who is trying to convince them of whatever is being broadcast, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau decided that each of the violations would be assessed the base fine of $4000 – meaning that there was a total fine of $44,000.

We wrote about the original Notice of Violation in this case two years ago, here.  In a two month period, the station had run a series of paid announcements on behalf of an organization called Workers Independent News (“WIN”), addressing social and political issues.  The announcements consisted of 45 90-second spots, 27 15-second promotional announcements, two two-hour programs, and one one-hour program.  All but 11 of these announcements had proper sponsorship identifications.  Even those 11 announcements identified the announcer as being with WIN, but they did not specifically say that the 11 spots had been “paid for” or “sponsored by” by the organization.  That alone was enough to prompt the fine.  But $44,000?
Continue Reading $44,000 Fine for 11 Missing Sponsorship IDs for Radio Station 45 Second Spots – Emphasizes Importance of Strict Compliance with All FCC Programming Rules

In the last few days, the FCC proposed three fines – all involving violations of the public inspection file rule, and all amounting to $10,000.  But the facts of the three cases are radically different, and one wonders about why all ended up with the same fine.  But more importantly, the cases again raise the issue of why the penalty for public file violations is so high in relation to other fines for what would seemingly be more important issues – ones involving interference to other stations and, potentially, public safety.  We’ve raised the question before as to whether public file violations, which have a $10,000 base fine adopted in the FCC’s Forfeiture Policy Statement (which includes a schedule of base fines for various different types of violations), is really appropriate given the lower fines for what would seem to be more crucial issues – like stations operating in some way that is technically different than they are licensed, or where they don’t have operating EAS systems that can pass along crucial emergency information – offenses with lower suggested fines. Looking at the facts in each of this week’s cases show that, even among public file offenses, the fine may be the same, yet the offenses seem very different.

In one case, an FCC inspection discovered an AM/FM combination operating with a tower with some of its required lights that did not work, an EAS system that wasn’t working and which had not been working apparently for years, an FM station that was operating overpower, and a single public file for the two stations, one that was lacking any Quarterly Issues Programs lists.  With all of these violations over 2 stations, the FCC could have fined these stations as much as $42,000, but the FCC reduced the fine to $10,000 based on the licensee’s demonstrated inability to pay the higher fine.  But more interesting for this analysis was the comparative cost of each of the violations.  Under the FCC’s analysis, the public file violation was worth $10,000, while the base fine for the EAS violation was only $8000, and the fine for the tower lights was the same as that for the missing documents in the public file.  The overpower operation drew only a $4000 fine.  Why is a public file violation, which probably no one ever asked to see, a violation with a penalty as severe as those for matters that could affect public safety – tower lights and EAS?  And why is it more than double the fine for overpower operation, which could cause interference – an issue as the heart of the FCC’s reason for being?  

Continue Reading Three $10,000 FCC Broadcast Fines, All Involving the Public File, Show Differences in Enforcement