The FCC released an order today, fining a broadcaster $20,000 for misrepresentations made in its license renewal application about the completeness of its public inspection file.  The fine issued in this case was not a fine for the fact that the file was incomplete (two stations in the cluster had each already been fined $4000 for the actual public file violations), but instead the fine was issued because the licensee had certified in its renewal application that the public file had been complete and accurate at all points during the course of the license term.  This case highlights both the need to keep an accurate public inspection file, and the need to carefully consider all certifications made in FCC applications.  Incorrect certifications can lead to fines and potentially even more severe sanctions if the FCC finds an intentional misrepresentation or lack of candor – the potential loss of a license.  Admitting a minor paperwork transgression like an incomplete public file will result in a fine – an inaccurate certification which appears to try to hide a problem can lead to far more severe consequences. 

In this case, the FCC found that the licensee had not maintained Quarterly Issues Programs lists.  The licensee claimed that its obligations had been met through a listing of public service announcements that the stations had put in their files.  The FCC rejected that argument, citing the requirement in its rules requiring that Quarterly Issues Programs lists contain "a narrative description of what issues were given substantial treatment" by the licensee as well as the programs that treated each issue.  In addition, the time and date of broadcast of each program, as well as its title and duration, is to be provided.  A simple list of PSAs does not meet these requirements – as it does not list the issues addressed, much less provide the detailed program information required by the rule.  For a summary of the Quarterly Issues Programs list obligations, and a model form to be used to meet the obligations, see our most recent memo on the subject, here.   Remember, the Quarterly Issues Programs Lists are a broadcast station’s only official record of how they have served the public interest needs of its community, so be sure that adequate attention is paid to the completion of these forms.

Continue Reading Big Fines for Public File Violation that Escalated

In the broadcast world, if you stick around long enough, what was once big and then faded away will no doubt come around once again.  Whether its the resurrection of prime time games shows that faded in the 50s to become big again today, or the regulatory landscape – it all comes around again.  In comments made to an oversight hearing of the US House of Representatives yesterday, Chairman Martin stated that there is an item circulating through the FCC proposing to require that broadcasters file in their license renewal applications more detailed information about the types of public interest programming they provide.   Until the mid-1980s, broadcasters had to specify the percentage of their programming that was comprised of news, public affairs and "other" public interest programming, as well as the number of public service announcements that the station broadcast.  These specific requirements disappeared in the "deregulation" of the 1980s, but from the statements made yesterday, they may now be making a return if Chairman Martin and the Democratic Commissioners can agree on a set of rules to be imposed on broadcasters.

We’ve written about various proposals to require specific, quantifiable public interest obligations of broadcasters in the context of the recent digital radio order.  We also wrote about the long-outstanding proceeding to quantify public interest obligations of television broadcasters that was mentioned in a recent decision denying a license renewal challenge (and implying that a decision was coming soon).  Whether the Chairman’s mention at yesterday’s hearing of the upcoming "item" was a reference to these two proceedings, or to some entirely new effort to re-regulate broadcasters, remains to be seen.  But the "post-card" renewal that was adopted in the 1980s, which has continued to grow in size and complexity over the intervening years, may well grow significantly in the near future.

Continue Reading Detailed License Renewal Requirements to Return?