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By: David Oxenford, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP
On September 20, the FCC’s Audio Division released its first decision in the current renewal cycle addressing the issue of incomplete public inspection files and missing Quarterly Issues Programs List, proposing to fine an AM station in Virginia $15,000 for apparently not having any Issues Programs Lists in its online public inspection file for the entire renewal term. The decision, found here, should serve as a warning to broadcasters to make sure that their online files are complete and up to date.
The facts of this case, summarized below, seem particularly egregious as the station had the same issue of missing issues programs lists when its last renewal was filed 8 years ago. Nevertheless, we can expect that this won’t be the last fine we will see for stations that have incomplete public files. The FCC has been sending out warnings about incomplete online files for the last year, and we’ve been warning (see, for instance, here and here) that, with all public inspection files now being available online, the FCC will likely be issuing fines during this renewal cycle if documents are missing from the file. The Quarterly Issues Programs lists are seen by the FCC as being particularly important as they are the only official documents demonstrating the public interest programming that was actually broadcast by a station (see our article here).
In this case, the station is owned by a 92-year-old man, who was stated to have run the station almost entirely on his own. He was not computer literate and thus did not know how to upload materials to the online public file. It was also claimed that he did not remember if he had prepared Quarterly Issues Programs Lists during the renewal term. The FCC said that his age was no excuse, and the violation was more serious as he had admitted to not having prepared Quarterly Issues Programs lists during the station’s last renewal as well as during the current license period. Thus, the Commission’s staff was recommending a $15,000 fine and a short-term renewal for only two years, rather than the normal 8 years.
The FCC has given notice – so if your renewal has not yet been filed, take the time now to ensure that your public file is complete to avoid the costly fines that could come your way if documents are missing.
David Oxenford is MAB’s Washington Legal Counsel and provides members with answers to their legal questions with the MAB Legal Hotline. Access information here. (Members only access).
There are no additional costs for the call; the advice is free as part of your MAB membership.