Just after Christmas, the FCC gave a number of broadcasters the equivalent of coal in their stocking – fining six different licensees for violations of the FCC’s EEO rules.  The fines issued that day ranged between $7,000 and $20,000, and included penalties issued to major broadcasting companies including Fox and Cumulus.  Also included were fines against Urban Radio in New York City and Puerto Rico Public Broadcasting – demonstrating that the FCC’s EEO rules, adopted in late 2002 after previous rules were declared unconstitutional essentially on "reverse discrimination" grounds (as they encouraged broadcasters to make hiring decisions not based on qualifications but instead based on race or gender), are truly race and gender blind.  It would be logical to assume that Urban Radio and Puerto Rico Public Broadcasting both had significant numbers of minority-group members on their staffs but, as they could not demonstrate that they had complied with the new rules requirements to reach out to all groups in their communities (as opposed to just racial or gender focused groups), they were assessed fines.  Reporting conditions, requiring that the broadcasters regularly file reports with the FCC so that their EEO efforts can be monitored, were also imposed.  All of the decisions can be found on the FCC’s Daily Digest for that day, here.

The basis of all of these fines was the failure of the licensees to be able to demonstrate that they had "widely disseminated" information about all of their job openings.  The core of the 2002 EEO regulations was the requirement that licensees broadly disseminate notice about their job openings in such a way so as reach all of the significant groups within the community that the station serves.  The Commission was not looking to specifically force minority hiring, but instead to push for hiring from diverse sources.  The Commission wanted to push broadcasters to use recruitment sources beyond the existing broadcast community – so that hiring was not simply done by word of mouth or from within other professional broadcast circles.   Thus, the rules require that broadcasters use recruitment sources that reach out to various groups within their community and document those efforts. 


Continue Reading FCC Fines Multiple Broadcast Stations for EEO Violations – Fines Up to $20,000 Imposed

Come the New Year, we all engage in speculation about what’s ahead in our chosen fields, so it’s time for us to look into our crystal ball to try to discern what Washington may have in store for broadcasters in 2009. With each new year, a new set of regulatory issues face the broadcaster from the powers-that-be in Washington. But this year, with a new Presidential administration, new chairs of the Congressional committees that regulate broadcasters, and with a new FCC on the way, the potential regulatory challenges may cause the broadcaster to look at the new year with more trepidation than usual. In a year when the digital television transition finally becomes a reality, and with a troubled economy and no election or Olympic dollars to ease the downturn, who wants to deal with new regulatory obstacles? Yet, there are potential changes that could affect virtually all phases of the broadcast operations for both radio and television stations – technical, programming, sales, and even the use of music – all of which may have a direct impact on a station’s bottom line that can’t be ignored. 

With the digital conversion, one would think that television broadcasters have all the technical issues that they need for 2009. But the FCC’s recent adoption of its “White Spaces” order, authorizing the operation of unlicensed wireless devices on the TV channels, insures that there will be other issues to watch. The White Spaces decision will likely be appealed. While the appeal is going on, the FCC will have to work on the details of the order’s implementation, including approving operators of the database that is supposed to list all the stations that the new wireless devices will have to protect, as well as “type accepting” the devices themselves, essentially certifying that the devices can do what their backers claim – knowing where they are through the use of geolocation technology, “sniffing” out signals to protect, and communicating with the database to avoid interference with local television, land mobile radio, and wireless microphone signals.


Continue Reading Gazing Into the Crystal Ball – The Outlook for Broadcast Regulation in 2009

The FCC last week issued an order fining a broadcast  tower owner $2000 for failure to monitor the lights on its tower.  The FCC requires that a tower owner either monitor the tower by visual inspection or by a properly installed automatic monitoring system, at least once every 24 hours.  In this case, the tower owner

Today FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin released a tentative agenda for the scheduled December 18, 2008 Open Commission Meeting.  The tentative agenda, available here, contains a number of items that the Chairman has circulated to the other Commissioners for consideration at the upcoming Open Meeting.  Whether these items actually make it to the agenda

On Monday’s edition of Morning Joe on MSNBC, host Joe Scarborough, while recounting a story about Obama Chief of Staff designate Rahm Emanuel, dropped the "F-bomb" – seemingly without even realizing that he did it.  He genuinely looked shocked after being told that he had not used the euphemisms that we’re using here, and apologized profusely, apologies that were even posted on the MSNBC website later in the day.  While the cast joked about the FCC fines that would be imposed, and discussed the legal ramifications about this incident, none seemed to recognize that cable – even basic cable – has not been subject to the same indecency regulation as over-the-air television, even though most basic cable networks generally observe the same standards observed by broadcasters to avoid offending their audiences (and perhaps inviting new attempts to regulate their operations.

Cases have generally held that cable, being a pay medium invited into the household, and with filtering technologies that allow particular channels to be blocked, does not have the same intrusive nature as the broadcast medium which comes in free to any house with a TV set and an antenna.  And, until recently when the V-Chip was introduced, over-the-air television did not have the same ability to block access to adult content.  It is interesting that this incident occurs only one week after the Supreme Court held its oral argument on the fleeting expletive case deciding if the inadvertent, unscripted use of a profanity should be subject to a fine.  If nothing else, this incident shows that mistakes happen even in the most unexpected places – who would expect that the host of a morning television program would slip up and let fly with an improper word?  This incident, and the cases before the Supreme Court, do not involve intentional, repeated use of profanity, like the George Carlin routine about which we wrote here, but instead just a fleeting isolated use of one of those "bad" words.  The FCC simply cannot demand perfection from its licensees without demanding perfection from society at large, which is clearly beyond the FCC’s jurisdiction. 


Continue Reading Joe Scarborough Drops the F-Word On Morning Joe – Lucky it Was on Cable

A Canadian radio station has apparently pulled off an amazing stunt that would have prompted an FCC fine if it had been done by a US radio station – calling Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin and engaging her in an on-air conversation under the premise that she was talking to French President Nicholas Sarkozy.  A recording of

The FCC this week issued fines to two broadcasters for issues in connection with the ownership of their stations – in one case the fine was issued simply because the broadcaster did timely not file three consecutive FCC Form 323 Biennial Ownership Reports .  In the second case, the fine was for not requesting FCC approval for a transfer of control of the licensee of the broadcast station.  These cases serve as a reminder that broadcast ownership is closely regulated by the FCC, that broadcasters need to report that ownership once every two years as required by the rules, and to seek approval before any change in control of any company that holds an FCC license.

The station that failed to file the three ownership reports was fined $6000.  As disclosed on the licensee’s license renewal application, the licensee had not filed 2001 and 2003 ownership reports at all, and filed the 2005 report late and did not put it in the station’s public inspection file.  Biennial Ownership Reports on FCC Form 323 must be filed by the licensees of AM, FM and TV station licensees once every two years, on the anniversary date of the filing of their license renewal applications by all licensees except where the licensee is an individual or a general partnership of natural persons (as opposed to a partnership that contains corporations or other business entities as partners).  We regularly send reminders to our clients about the filing of ownership reports.  For more details on the requirements for the biennial filing, see our advisory for reports that were due on August 1 here, and see our schedule of broadcast filing dates for the remainder of 2008 to see if your station has a biennial filing deadline this year). 


Continue Reading Fines for Broadcast Ownership Issues – Remember to File Biennial Ownership Reports and to Seek FCC Approval Before a Transfer of Control

We’ve written about the FCC rules against broadcasting phone calls without permission of the person at the other end of the line.  Specifically, we’ve written about the FCC’s decision that held that these rules prevent the broadcast of people’s voicemail messages without their permission, and about the FCC’s decision to fine a station even though