Big FCC Fines for Public File Violations for Commercial and Noncommercial Stations

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The FCC today issued fines of as much as $12,000 for public file violations. Together with the fine issued earlier this week for a station that did not allow unrestricted access to its public file, these actions make clear how seriously the FCC takes the obligations of broadcast stations to maintain and make available their public inspection files. The fines issued today went to both commercial and noncommercial stations, with two noncommercial stations each receiving fines of $8000 for not having complete public files. Violations are expensive - even if your station is owned by a noncommercial entity.

The largest fine, $12,000, went to a commercial station that, when inspected by FCC Field Inspectors in March 2010, could not produce anything in its public file more recent than 2006. While the licensee claimed that the documents were kept at the office of the station owner several hundred miles away, the FCC found that the violation of having nothing from more than 3 years of operation was so egregious that an upward adjustment from the standard $10,000 public file fine was warranted. The two fines issued to noncommercial stations were not as egregious, but still resulted in significant fines. A review of the details of those cases are instructive as to the excuses and mitigating circumstance that the FCC rejected when the licensees tried to argue for a significant reduction or elimination of the fine.

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