public inspection file

Fines against noncommercial stations may that are primarily student run may not be as harsh as they have been in the past under a ruling issued by the FCC’s Media Bureau earlier this week. The new policy came about as part of a consent decree entered into by an Iowa college-owned broadcaster whose student-run station had failed in its obligation to keep quarterly issues programs lists during most of the prior license renewal term, and also was late in meeting its obligations to file biennial ownership reports with the Commission. Instead of imposing what could have been as much as a $25,000 fine on the broadcaster, the FCC instead agreed to a consent decree by which the broadcaster contributed only $2500 to the government and agreed to certain ongoing obligations to insure its compliance with FCC rules going forward. The FCC also announced, as part of its decision in the case, that it would apply this policy of more leniency in other cases involving student-run stations in the future.  See, for instance, this decision from last year for evidence of how this policy marks a change in the FCC’s policy.

However, this new policy will apply in only very limited circumstances – only to noncommercial stations that are primarily student run. In the decision, the FCC recognized that these stations often had very limited budgets and also a high staff turnover as students graduated and new students took their place. As such, the potential for these kinds of errors increased, and yet the ability to pay for fines was small. In this case, the station involved had an annual budget of less than $7000. Were the Commission to impose big fines, these stations might be forced off the air, as the Commission noted a trend where many noncommercial student-run stations had been sold recently by colleges and universities – often leading to protests about the sales and inevitable format changes (see, for instance the decision we wrote about here).


Continue Reading FCC Adopts More Lenient Standards on Certain Fines to Student Run Noncommercial Broadcast Stations

The FCC proposed that a noncommercial broadcaster be fined $10,000 for its failure to allow a visitor unquestioned and immediate access to the public inspection files for 6 noncommercial radio stations operated from the same main studio. Though the delay in allowing access was only a few hours long, that delay, together with questions asked of the person who requested access as to his reasons for the inspections, led to the Notice of Apparent Liability issued by the FCC. In the decision, the Commission reminded all broadcasters that their obligation is to make the file available immediately upon a request made during normal business hours. The person inspecting the file cannot be asked why they want to see the file, or for their business or professional affiliation.

In this case, an individual apparently representing a competing broadcaster showed up at the station at about 10:30 in the morning. While it was disputed as to whether the individual immediately asked the receptionist to see the public file,  or whether he simply asked to talk to the general manager of the station, the Commission found that both parties agreed that, when the general manager was reached by phone, the individual did ask to see the file. The general manager did not immediately tell his staff to allow inspection of the file, instead telling the visitor that the manager would return to the office at about noon, and the file could be seen then. It was that delay – putting the visitor off for a few hours- that the Commission found was sufficient to trigger the violation. In the decision, the FCC went further to make this case instructive for broadcasters by laying out some of the specifics of the obligations of a broadcaster to allow access to its public file.


Continue Reading Noncommercial Radio Operator Fined $10,000 for Not Providing Immediate Access to Public File – FCC Provides A Good Primer on the Public File Rules for All Radio Broadcasters

On Friday, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit followed the FCC’s lead in denying the NAB’s request for stay of the requirement for TV stations to post their public inspection files online.  Accordingly, that rule goes into effect on Thursday, August 2, 2012.

Effective that date, TV stations should post all new public file documents online in the FCC database created for this purpose.  Stations will have six months in which to post pre-existing public file documents into that database. The online posting requirement applies to TV stations only…not to radio stations or cable systems.

Posting of the political public file will not be required until July 1, 2014, except for the top four network affiliated stations (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox) in the top 50 markets.  No station will be required to post political file documents created prior to August 2, 2012.


Continue Reading It’s Official: Online Posting of TV Public File Required Beginning August 2nd; FCC Schedules More Demos of System

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

In the last few weeks, I’ve twice had the occasion to summarize the legal issues facing broadcasters, and it amazes me at how many issue there are and, how quickly the issues are changing. On April 12, I did an update on these issue to the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters at their annual convention – the PowerPoint slides

Three broadcast items are tentatively scheduled for the next FCC meeting, to be held on April 27, according to the tentative agenda released today.  In one expected action, though perhaps moving more quickly than many thought possible, the FCC has indicated that it will adopt an Order in its proceeding requiring TV broadcasters to place and maintain their public files on the Internet.  A second broadcast item will adopt rules for channel sharing by TV broadcasters as part of the plan for incentive auctions to entice TV broadcasters to give up some of their spectrum for wireless broadband use.  Finally, the FCC proposes to adopt a NPRM on whether to amend current policies so as to permit noncommercial broadcasters from interrupting their regular programming to raise funds for organizations other than the station itself.

The first item is to determine whether to require that the broadcasters maintain an Online Public Inspection File, is a controversial issue about which we wrote last week. The proposal for the online file grew out of the FCC’s Future of Media Report (renamed the Report on the Information Needs of Communities when it was released last year, see our summary here).  In that same report, it was suggested that the FCC relax rules applicable to noncommercial broadcasters that limit their on-air fundraising for third-parties, if that fundraising interrupts the normal course of programming.  The Future of Media Report suggests that this restriction be relaxed so that noncommercial broadcasters be able to do block programming from time to time to raise funds for other noncommercial entities


Continue Reading On the Schedule for the April 27 FCC Meeting: Television Public Interest Obligations, TV Channel Sharing and Third-Party Fundraising by Noncommercial Broadcasters

While rumors are flying that the FCC is rushing to adopt its proposals to require that TV stations put their public inspection files online (see our summary of the proposals here), both the FCC and public interest groups are targeting the public files of television stations – looking to copy some or all of those files.  Rumors are that the FCC inspected the public files of all television stations in at least one city – and asked for copies of the complete files to be produced at the FCC within a day or two, in some cases requiring the copying of several file cabinets worth of material very quickly.  Whether this inspection is a one-shot deal or the start of a program to audit the files of TV stations across the country is unclear.  At the same time, public interest groups have been urging their members to inspect TV station public files across the nation, to copy parts of those files, and to post the information that they collect online.  TV stations across the country need to be prepared for these inspections.

Why these actions now?  Some may think that the FCC is just conducting a random audit, while others may suggest that the demand for complete public files is just a fact-finding mission as part of its rulemaking process.  The more suspicious of broadcasters may think that this represents the FCC sending a message that the online public file is coming, and stations may find it easier to accept the online file rather than facing these demands for the instant reproduction of their entire files to be inspected at leisure in Washington. 


Continue Reading FCC and Public Interest Groups Demand Copies of TV Stations’ Public Inspection Files, As FCC Nears Decision About Requiring That The Complete File Be Posted Online