FCC Slaps Television Stations With Public File Fines
by Jerry Glover
April 25, 2013
The Federal Communications Commission has fined three commercial television and radio stations with substantial fines for failing to keep the stations’ public files up to date. More specifically, all three stations were fined for failing to place quarterly Children’s Television Programming Reports in those public files. In re KM-LPTV of Chicago-28, LLC (Chicago, Illinois), NAL Act. 2013414; In re WAGT Television, Inc (Augusta, Georgia).¸ NAL Acct. 201341470007; In re Ernetso Burstos/WTBL-CD (Lenoir, North Carolina), NAL Acct. 201341420009.
All commercial television stations must maintain a public inspection file. See 47 C.F.R. Sec. 73.3526. The files must include a report that reflects “the efforts that the station made during a given quarter to serve the educational and informational needs of children.” See Id. at Sec. 73.3526(e)(11)(iii). This children’s television report must also be filed with the FCC and its existence publicized to the station’s audience.
Following an investigation by the FCC staff, it was discovered that Station KMLP TV/Chicago had failed to include the children’s report in its public file for all four quarters of 2010 and 2011 until May 22, 2012. The FCC found this to be a willful violation which is defined as “the conscious and deliberate commission or omission of [any] act, irrespective of any intent to violate” the law. 47 U.S.C. Sec. 312(f)(1). The FCC also found that the violation was also “repeated” which means the commission or omission of an act more than once.” 47 U.S.C. Sec. 312(f)(2). The station was fined $13,000.
In the WAGT/Augusta matter, the FCC staff found that the station had failed to publicize the existence of the children’s television report from September 2011 through November 2012. Although the staff did not report a violation of the requirement that the quarterly report be prepared and placed in the station’s public file, the FCC nevertheless fined the station $10,000 for failing to publicize the report’s existence.
In the WTBL/Lenoir case, the FCC staff found that the station had failed to prepare the children’s television report and to file the same with the FCC for two quarters in 2009 and all four quarters of 2010. The station was fined $13,000.
Stations will continue to face these fines if they fail to meet the quarterly filing requirements. Neglect seems to be the reason why most stations face these types of fines. The reports are not difficult or time consuming to prepare, so there really is no excuse for failing to meet the public file requirements. And, perhaps most importantly, members of the public who make it a point to determine whether their local stations are complying with the public file rules will be sure to report file violations.