financial hardship for FCC fine

Noncommercial broadcasters get no breaks when dealing with proposed FCC fines, said the Commission’s Media Bureau in two cases released this week.  While many noncommercial broadcasters may yearn for a day when they were treated leniently if violations were discovered – getting off with perhaps an admonishment letter – those days are over, as they have been for some time. In one case released this week, the FCC specifically states that noncommercial broadcasters are no different than commercial ones when dealing with fines (or "forfeitures" as they are called by the FCC).  If the noncommercial broadcaster violates a rule, they will be treated just like a commercial broadcaster, and have to pay the same fine as would the commercial broadcaster.  

Noncommercial broadcasters have often argued that they cannot afford to pay big fines, as their budgets are limited.  Even when noncommercial stations are owned by colleges or local governments, they have limited budgets, and fines don’t figure into them.  But, in two recent cases, the FCC has rejected arguments for the reduction of proposed fines based on financial hardship, in both cases finding that the budget of the station was not important – it is the total budget of the licensee that is important in assessing if a fine is too much (see our post about how the FCC determines if a fine should be reduced because its payment would create a financial hardship on a station).  In the case cited above, the FCC said that it was the local government agency (a metropolitan school district) that was the licensee, and its financial resources should have been assessed in determining whether the proposed fine was too great.  In a second case, it was a state university that owned the station, and the FCC said that it would look to the overall finances of the university in determining if the fine was too high – not the amount budgeted for the station.  In neither case had the licensee put forward a financial showing for the full licensee organization, so the FCC rejected the requests for reductions of the fines based on financial hardship.

Continue Reading FCC Makes Clear Noncommercial Broadcasters Get No Breaks on FCC Fines, Nor on Financial Hardship Showings

The FCC today issued fines of as much as $12,000 for public file violations.  Together with the fine issued earlier this week for a station that did not allow unrestricted access to its public file, these actions make clear how seriously the FCC takes the obligations of broadcast stations to maintain and make available their public inspection files.  The fines issued today went to both commercial and noncommercial stations, with two noncommercial stations each receiving fines of $8000 for not having complete public files.  Violations are expensive – even if your station is owned by a noncommercial entity.

The largest fine, $12,000, went to a commercial station that, when inspected by FCC Field Inspectors in March 2010, could not produce anything in its public file more recent than 2006.  While the licensee claimed that the documents were kept at the office of the station owner several hundred miles away, the FCC found that the violation of having nothing from more than 3 years of operation was so egregious that an upward adjustment from the standard $10,000 public file fine was warranted.  The two fines issued to noncommercial stations were not as egregious, but still resulted in significant fines.  A review of the details of those cases are instructive as to the excuses and mitigating circumstance that the FCC rejected when the licensees tried to argue for a significant reduction or elimination of the fine.  

Continue Reading Big FCC Fines for Public File Violations for Commercial and Noncommercial Stations