fines reduced for financial hardship

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

In two consent decrees released last week, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau agreed to significant "voluntary contributions" to the US Treasury to settle noncompliance issues reported in license renewal applications filed by noncommercial radio stations.  Both stations had voluntarily reported public inspection file issues in their license renewals.  One admitted to having no issues programs lists in its public file and having filed no biennial ownership reports for the license renewal period.  The other admitted that it was missing several years worth of quarterly issues programs lists.  In the first case, the FCC agreed to a $10,000 contribution in lieu of a fine (see the agreement here), in the other case a $1700 contribution (which was less than might normally be the case, as it was reduced by a financial hardship showing – see the order here and the agreement with the FCC here).  These cases demonstrate the significance that the FCC places on public file issues – the biggest source of fines in the last license renewal cycle.  With a new license renewal cycle beginning in June 2011, now is the time for all broadcasters – commercial and noncommercial – to make sure that they are ready for the beginning of this cycle by clearing up any outstanding regulatory issues.

The fines also once again demonstrate that the Commission no longer treats noncommercial broadcasters differently than commercial broadcasters – fining noncommercial stations for violations just as it does their commercial brethren (see a previous post on this subject, here).  In these cases, the use of Consent Decrees also demonstrate the problems that issues arising at renewal time can cause.  If a station’s license renewal reports a problem, such as an incomplete public file, the application is pulled out of the routine processing pile for further scrutiny.  Such scrutiny can often take a year, and sometimes several years, to resolve.  While the renewal application is in this state of limbo, a sale of the station will not be approved, and sometimes other regulatory actions can be held up (in fact, in one of these cases, a transfer of control of the licensee company was delayed while this issue was being resolved).  Thus, to avoid these lengthy delays, stations often decide to pursue the consent decree route to try to resolve the issue more quickly than would be the case if the application were just left with the FCC to run its course.Continue Reading Fines For Public Inspection File Issues – Noncommercial Broadcasters Enter into Consent Decrees to Resolve Rule Violations