Public Radio Station Gets Fined For Repeated Public File Failures; Receives Short-Term License Renewal

Public Radio Station Gets Fined For Repeated Public File Failures; Receives Short-Term License Renewal

by Jerry Glover
September 26, 2013

The Federal Communications Commission recently issued another in a string of decisions fining television stations for failing to keep their public files up to date. The most recent decision began with an application for license renewal of a New Mexico public radio station. The FCC fined the station $12,000 for failing to include in its public file the station’s quarterly issues/programs lists and limited its license renewal to four rather than the standard eight years. In re Application of Gallup Public Radio Station KLP (FM),

FCC regulations require television and radio stations to maintain a public inspection file containing certain types of information throughout the license term.  Much of this information must be updated on a quarterly basis each year of the license term..  47 C.F.C. Sec. 73.3527. One of the documents that must be a part of this public file is a quarterly issues/program list. When a station applies for license renewal, it must certify on the renewal application form that the station has maintained the public file throughout the license term. Station KLP checked the “Yes” box on this part of the application but later attached an “exhibit” to the renewal application noting that no quarterly issues/programs lists had been placed in its public file from the beginning of the license term in 2005 through the fourth quarter of 2012 (a total of 21 missing reports). The exhibit, however, indicated that the station had reconstructed all missing reports.

The FCC noted that the Federal Communications Act makes a licensed station liable for forfeiture if it “willfully or repeatedly” fails to comply with the Act.  47 U.S.C. Sec. 503(b)(1)(B). “Willful” means “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). “Repeated” means the “commission or omission of such act more than once.”  47 U.S.C. Sec. 312(f)(2).

In this case, the FCC noted the radio station’s violations were extensive lasting almost six year of the eight-year license term. The FCC believed that this repeated violation required it to impose a forfeiture of $12,000 on the station, $2,000 over the base amount of $10,000 set out in the FCC’s regulations.

The FCC then turned to the question of whether to renew the station’s broadcast license. The FCC noted that the Communications Act allows it to grant a station’s license renewal application unless the station has committed serious violations of the Act or FCC rules. In this case the FCC considered the radio station’s failure to maintain a portion of its public file for 6 years to be a serious violation. The issues/programs list portion of the public file, according to the FCC, is a significant and representative indication that a licensee is providing substantial service to meet the needs and interests of its community” and allows the public to determine whether the station is serving the community.

The FCC described the station’s attitude toward the public file requirement as “cavalier.” But at least, the FCC noted, the station eventually reconstructed the missing issues/programs lists. For that reason, the FCC did not believe a hearing was required to determine whether the station’s license should be renewed. But the FCC did limit the renewed license to a term of four years, not the standard eight years. The agency believed this limited license term would give it an opportunity to review the radio station’s compliance with the Communications Act and the FCC’s regulations.

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