FCC Fines Of $10,000 to $14,000 for Broadcast Public File Violations - Discovered By FCC Inspections

Davis Wright Tremaine LLP

In several recent cases, the FCC issued big fines to stations that had significant gaps in their public inspection files - fines of between $10,000 and $14,000. Unlike many other recent public inspection file fines, these fines did not arise from self-reporting of violations in a license renewal application, nor were they discovered as a result of a complaint from a disgruntled listener or competitor. These fines also did not arise in connection with the discovery of other violations at the stations. Instead, these fines were the result of FCC inspections - inspections that seemingly did not turn up other significant violations. Thus, these cases serve as a warning that broadcasters need to ensure that their file is complete and up-to-date at all times. Curiously, these large fines come at the same time that the FCC is about to consider comments on whether the public file paperwork burden is justifiable.

These fines were large - demonstrating a seeming trend to ever-higher fines for public file violations. The $14,000 fine issued today went to a Class A TV station that had no quarterly programs issues lists in its public file for the entire license renewal term - 34 reports were missing at the time of the inspection. Based on this egregious violation, the FCC decided that an increase over the base $10,000 fine was in order. Two AM stations, which had pretty much the same violation as the Class A station - no QPIs for the same period of time - received $10,000 fines (see decisions here and here). A third AM station received a $10,000 fine for having no new information in its public file since 2006.

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