Radio Station’s Cute Baby Contest Screw Up Not Cute To FCC
by Jerry Glover
August 28, 2012
The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau recently issued a decision, In re CBS Radio Holdings, Inc.. (EB-11-IH-1374 August 21, 2012), fining a CBS-owned radio station in North Carolina for failing to conduct a contest substantially as announced in violation of FCC rules. See 47 C.F.R. Sec. 73.1216 (the “Contest Rule”). The station announced on air its “Carolina Cuties” contest in which participants submitted a picture of their baby to a station website. The general public was invited to view those photos and vote on who they thought was the cutest baby.
The on-air announcements stated that the contest would end on September 5, 2011 and the winner would be announced on September 6, 2011. However, at the end of August one or more employees of the station posted on the station website that the contest would conclude on September 4, 2011 (and, presumably, the winner would be announced that same day). The staff also sent e-mail messages at that same time to contestant finalists noting that the contest concluded on September 4, 2011. The staff later updated the website indicating that the contest closed on September 4 and the winner would be announced on September 6, 2011. Once these errors were discovered, the station allowed voting to continue through September 5, 2011 as originally planned and broadcast an announcement to that effect. At least one listener complained to the station about being confused concerning the deadlines.
A financial penalty can be levied by the Federal Communications Commission for the repeated or willful violation of Commission rules. See 47 U.S.C. Sec.312(f). The Contest rule requires a licensed station which advertises information about a station-sponsored contest must “fully and accurately disclose the material terms of the contest, and shall conduct the contest substantially as announced or advertised.” A “material term” includes the time and means of selecting the winner.
The Enforcement Bureau noted that the station did air correct announcements about the contest but, because of errors on the station website and in the e-mails sent to finalists, the station did not conduct the contest as announced since it made errors concerning the contest’s end date. These errors resulted in public confusion. The station blamed its staff for not checking with management before posting the website and e-mail errors. The Bureau noted, however, that a station/licensee is responsible for anything that goes on its air and is likewise responsible for its employee’s actions. The staff’s posting of these errors, the Bureau added, showed the station’s lack of management oversight. The station also argued that no actual harm occurred as a result of the errors but the Bureau stated that actual harm is not required before a violation of Commission rules can be found. Here, though, the Bureau noted that public confusion resulting from the posted errors was sufficient to show actual harm.
Radio and television station management must clear all sweepstakes/contest materials before they are aired or posted to station-controlled websites. In addition to following FCC contest rules, stations must also make sure contests/sweepstakes are accompanied by rules that are referenced on air and posted on the station’s website.