In two decisions released in the last two weeks, the FCC fined two radio stations $4000 each for perceived violations of its contest rules. The first decision was based on a perceived ambiguity in the contest rules that did not make clear in broadcasts and in written rules that there would be only one winner in a contest. In the second, the FCC faulted the licensee for not giving the prize away within 30 days of the contest end. Both cases demonstrate the seriousness with which the FCC seems to take contest rules, especially the need for disclosure of all material terms to listeners, both in over-the-air announcements (see our post here on the need to broadcast the material terms of a contest) and in the written rules governing the contest. Seemingly, ambiguities will be construed against the licensee and any material parts of the contest, including when the prize will be delivered must be clear the contestants.
In the first case, The Commission found that the licensee had not made clear in its on-air announcements and in its written rules that there would be only one prize awarded in the contest. When one closely reads the case, what seems to come through most clearly is that the Commission is expecting licensees to document carefully that they have clearly provided the material rules of the contest on the air, sufficiently so that a reasonable listener would be aware of those rules. In this case, the licensee was unable to document how often its announcements providing the rules were broadcast, or to conclusively say if they had ever been broadcast at all. The contest was to give away a garage full of prizes, so it would seem that the nature of the contest itself made clear that there was going to be only one winner. But the Commission concluded that there were not enough unambiguous statements that there would be but a single winner – thus prompting the fine.