In a decision just released, the FCC fined a noncommercial FM station $8000 for failing to make its public inspection file available when it was requested. The FCC made clear that past cases where a noncommercial station was given only an admonition for similar violations were no longer good law, finding that the public file was an important part of the station’s obligations to the public and the failure to make it available was a serious violation. This case should serve as a warning to all stations, commercial and noncommercial, that they need to have people at the station at all times who know where the public file is located, and that all visitors who request access to the file need to be given such access.
This case was perhaps a bit more egregious than most, as the visitor who requested access to the fine was known to the station, as the person was employed by a college that had tried unsuccessfully to buy the station. After its request to purchase the station was turned down, the prospective buyer had allegedly filed a number of pleadings at the FCC trying to force the licensee to sell the station. When the person appeared at the station to request access to the public file, the person was first told to return another day. After protesting that was illegal, an official of the College which is the station licensee, arrived at the scene and told the visitor that he had to leave, and could only view the public file after having made a prior appointment with the college’s attorney. When reached by phone, the attorney allegedly told the visitor to leave the premises or he would be arrested. Only when he returned another day, after being initially turned down yet again, was the visitor eventually able to persuade the station employees that refusal to give him access to the file was illegal. When he was finally able to gain access to the file, he stated that he found it to be incomplete.…
As the Commission held its last localism hearing in Washington on Halloween night, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s views on how the FCC should insure that stations are responsive to their communities became somewhat clearer. In his opening statement, the Chairman outlined a set of actions that could be taken by the FCC to insure more service to the public. While emphasizing the importance of efforts to encourage new entrants into broadcast ownership, the Chairman’s proposals to add new regulatory requirements, including requiring that a station be manned during all hours of operation, may well have the result of making it more difficult for any new entrant (or for existing smaller operators) to profitably operate their stations. In addition, he has offered proposals that would seemingly require cable and satellite carriage of in-state television stations not in a system’s DMA – a proposal sure to cause concern to stations in DMAs that straddle state lines.
The Chairman’s statement includes the following proposals:
- Requirements for uniform filings by broadcasters quantifying their public service – presumably their news and information programming and the public service announcements that they provide
- Requiring that stations have manned main studios during all hours of operations (not just during business hours)
- Allowing flexibility for LPFM stations to be sold, but adopting new rules to insure that such stations are used for local programming, not something provided from a network or other programming source
- Providing television viewers the ability to get an in-state television stations on cable and satellite even if the county in which they reside is "home" to a DMA with stations in another state
- Capping the number of applications accepted from the 2003 FM translator filing window – which might result in the dismissal of hundreds of applications that have effectively been frozen for 4 years
Twice this week, the FCC released decisions denying applications proposing city of license changes for AM stations proposing to take away the only station licensed to one community and move it to another. In its order adopting simplified city of license changes (see our previous posts including those here and here), the FCC refused to change its policy of not allowing the removal of an established radio station which is the only station licensed to a community except in cases where an extraordinary showing justifying a waiver of the rules could be made. The two cases decided this week show that merely moving to a community with greater population (even one which has no other station licensed to it) will not, in and of itself, justify a waiver of the rules. Thus, stations which are the only station licensed to their communities are effectively blocked from changing cities of license without providing a "back-fill", i.e. moving another station so that it can be licensed to the community that would otherwise be abandoned.
In one case decided this week, the broadcaster proposed to move its AM station to a community that had three times the population of the one that it was proposing to leave. The Commission rejected the move, finding that the residents of the current community should be able to rely on continued service from that station. This was true even though other stations could be received in the community, as the Commission reminded licensees that their primary responsibility is to serve the needs of their city of license, and that this primary service cannot be duplicated by the secondary service provided by a station licensed to another town or city. …