FCC Fines Public Radio Station $10,000 For Public File Violations
March 15, 2016
by Jerry Glover
The Federal Communications Commission has fined a public radio station $10,000 for failure to properly maintain the stations’ public file for 13 consecutive quarters. The station failed to put into the file a required list of issues the station had covered in the previous quarter. In re Peconic Public Broadcasting (Station WPPB (FM), Southampton, New York), MB-201541410015 (FCC March 7, 2016).
The amount of the fine was based on the Commission’s so-called “base forfeiture” established in 1999 for violation of the public file rules. The ultimate fine determination is based on the FCC’s evaluation of the following: the nature, circumstances, extent and gravity of the violation and, with respect to the station, the degree of culpability, any history of prior offenses, ability to pay and other matters “as justice may require.”
The station argued the $10,000 fine should be reduced because of its inability to pay. The FCC will reduce a fine on that ground it the station can show financial hardship by submitting (i) federal tax returns fore the most recent three-year period; (2) financial statements prepared according to generally accepted accounting practices or (3) some other reliable and objective documentation that accurately reflect the station’s current financial status.
But in this case the station presented no such evidence. It only noted that that station was living on a day-to-day, hand to mouth existence. Essentially, it was saying to the FCC, “We are too poor to pay. Trust us.”
The station also argued that its series of violations for 13 quarters was not willful or repeated. The Federal Communications Act defines willful conduct as “the conscious and deliberate commission or omissions of [any] act, irrespective of any intent to violate the law.” 47 U.S.C. Section 312(f)(1). That same Act defines repeated conduct as “the commission or omission of such act more than once.” Id at Section 312(f)(2). Even inadvertent acts are considered willful.
The station did not explain why its failure to prepare quarterly issue reports for 13 straight quarters was not willful and repeated. Frankly, how could that failure be explained away?
The station also argued that it had a history of complying with FCC rules. Despite that history, the FCC considered the station’s failure to prepare these quarterly issue reports to be an extensive violation. Past good behavior was, therefore, irrelevant.
Bottom line: if a station is going to ask for a reduction in an FCC fine, it better have appropriate documentation and arguments that don’t fly in the face of the record.