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Indian E-music – The right mix of Indian Vibes… » David Silverman


FCC Public File Interface Goes Live

Delivered... David Silverman | Scene | Fri 3 Aug 2012 5:46 pm

As we have previously advised, all full power and Class A TV stations are now required to upload their public inspection files to a dedicated FCC database created for this purpose.  Although all new public file documents must be uploaded contemporaneously, stations will have six months or until February 2, 2013 to upload pre-existing public file documents (with the exception of the political file, as explained in our previous posting).

The FCC has now announced the availability of the public file interface for both station and public access.  Specifically, TV stations may access the database for posting purposes here, while the public can access the database for the purpose of viewing stations' public files here

All FCC applications and authorizations existing at the FCC in electronic form have been incorporated into each station's public file database and do not need to be separately uploaded.  Also, once incorporated into the FCC public file database, the station no longer need keep a paper copy of the document in the local public file. 

As a reminder, stations will need a Federal Registration Number (FRN) and passcode to access the public file for uploading purposes.  Letters and emails from the public should not be uploaded to the FCC public file database for privacy purposes but should be retained in the local public file. 

If successful, we would expect the FCC to apply this requirement to radio stations at a future date.

It’s Official: Online Posting of TV Public File Required Beginning August 2nd; FCC Schedules More Demos of System

Delivered... David Silverman | Scene | Sun 29 Jul 2012 8:43 pm

On Friday, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit followed the FCC's lead in denying the NAB's request for stay of the requirement for TV stations to post their public inspection files online.  Accordingly, that rule goes into effect on Thursday, August 2, 2012.

Effective that date, TV stations should post all new public file documents online in the FCC database created for this purpose.  Stations will have six months in which to post pre-existing public file documents into that database. The online posting requirement applies to TV stations only...not to radio stations or cable systems.

Posting of the political public file will not be required until July 1, 2014, except for the top four network affiliated stations (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox) in the top 50 markets.  No station will be required to post political file documents created prior to August 2, 2012.

To facilitate the process, the FCC is holding online/teleconference seminars on Monday, July 30th and Tuesday, July 31st.  The Monday seminar will be held from 9-11 AM EDT while the Tuesday seminar will be held from 4-6 pm EDT.  Details of how to join the online seminars are available at the FCC website here.

 

 

Does $10,000 Fine Make Sense for Small College Radio Station Missing Public File Documents?

Delivered... David Silverman | Scene | Thu 26 Jul 2012 9:44 pm

The FCC has once again proposed a $10,000 fine against a college radio station missing quarterly issues/program lists in the public inpsection file.  This time, the culprit is Rollins College, a small liberal arts college in Florida with 1700 students. 

We know that $10,000 is the "base forfeiture" for failure to maintain a complete public inspection file, and this is not the first time the FCC has proposed this fine for a college radio station.  But we have questioned before whether a $10,000 fine is appropriate for this type of violation and the amount seems even more egregious when it is levied against a small noncommercial educational college radio station.  It is the same fine that would be levied against a major commercial television network station located in New York City for the same violation.

Yes, rules are rules and they should be followed by all FCC licensed broadcast stations.  But as Dave Seyler notes in a thoughtful piece written for Radio Business Report, it may not be in the best interests of the federal government to "siphon money out of our educational system."  In this case, as in other similar cases, the college received no warning following an FCC inspection...just the fine. 

As we have also previously noted, very few citizens go to radio stations looking to inspect quarterly issues/programs lists.  Do we really need a small college radio station to document its coverage of community issues the same way a commercial station would?  Would the FCC really consider stripping a small college of its noncommercial license for this type of violation, or is it just another way for the FCC to earn revenues?  It sure seems a lot like the latter. 

We know the FCC is stretched thin in terms of personnel and resources, and they do the best they can with the resources available. We also know that stations unable to pay FCC fines can present evidence of inability to pay to reduce or cancel proposed fines.  But there are legal fees to pay for doing that as well.  Accordingly, it does not seem unrealistic to suggest that some rule violations may merit a warning prior to a fine or that noncommercial educational radio stations be treated with a bit more leniency going forward.

FCC Announces Regulatory Fees Due for FY 2012

Delivered... David Silverman | Scene | Sun 22 Jul 2012 3:42 am

The FCC has released its Report and Order showing the annual regulatory fees due for the 2012 fiscal year. Although the due date has not yet been announced, it will likely be in September. The fees are intended to recover the Commission's cost of operations, reported to be nearly $340 million. 

Fees must be paid by all commercial FCC licensees and permittees as of October 1, 2011 (the first day of the 2012 fiscal year).  In the event of an assignment or transfer of control after that date, fees are to be paid by the current permittees and licensees as of the payment due date in September.  Noncommercial stations and all nonprofit entities are exempt from paying regulatory fees.

Although a summary of fees is shown below, each licensee or permittee will have to check the FCC website to determine the exact amount of fees owed, since the FCC will not be mailing out any notices of fees due.  Fees paid even one day late will be subject to a 25% penalty plus administrative processing charges, so timely payment is critical.  Unlike the IRS which uses the mailing date to determine timeliness, the FCC requires regulatory fees to be received by the due date to avoid late payment penalties.  Licensees or permittees that fail to pay their regulatory fees in full will not be able to get FCC action on any subsequently filed applications pursuant to the Commission's "red light" policy until all fees and penalties are paid.

Licensees and permittees will be able to pay by wire, credit card, check, money order or debit card, although all payers will need a an FCC Registration Number (FRN) and completed "Fee Filer Form" 159-E prior to filing.

Below is a chart showing final 2012 FCC regulatory fees, which differ slightly from those proposed by the Commission in May.  Radio station fees based on population use 2010 Census data.  Do not forget to include all broadcast auxiliary licenses at $10 each when computing fees due. 

Although not shown below, cable television operators will be required to pay 95 cents per subscriber as of December 31, 2011 plus $475 for any CARS licenses held.

 

AM Radio Construction Permits

550

FM Radio Construction Permits

700

VHF Commercial TV

 

                Markets 1-10       

80,075

                Markets 11-25

73,475

                Markets 26-50

39,800

                Markets 51-100  

20,925

                Remaining Markets

5,825

                Construction Permits

5,825

UHF Commercial TV

 

                Markets 1-10

35,350

                Markets 11-25

32,625

                Markets 26-50

21,925

                Markets 51-100

12,750

                Remaining Markets

3,425

                Construction Permits         

3,425

Licensed Satellite TV Stations (All Markets)  

1,425

Construction Permits – Satellite Television Stations

895

LPTV, Class A TV, TV/FM Translators & Boosters (analog or digital)

385

Broadcast Auxiliaries         

10

 

 

FY 2012 RADIO STATION REGULATORY FEES

Population

Served

AM Class A

AM Class B

AM Class C

AM Class D

FM Classes

A, B1 & C3

FM Classes

B, C, C0, C1 & C2

<=25,000

$725

$600

$550

$625

$700

$875

25,001 – 75,000

$1,475

$1,225

$850

$950

$1,425

$1,550

75,001 – 150,000

$2,200

$1,525

$1,125

$1,600

$1,950

$2,875

150,001 – 500,000

$3,300

$2,600

$1,675

$1,900

$3,025

$3,750

500,001 – 1,200,000

$4,775

$3,975

$2,800

$3,175

$4,800

$5,525

1,200,001 – 3,000,00

$7,350

$6,100

$4,200

$5,075

$7,800

$8,850

>3,000,000

$8,825

$7,325

$5,325

$6,350

$9,950

$11,500

 

Of course, we will keep you advised of the due date when it is announced, but feel free to contact us with any questions about the amount of fees due or payment methods.

FCC to Stream Demo of Online Public File Database; Denies NAB Request for Stay

Delivered... David Silverman | Scene | Thu 12 Jul 2012 7:07 pm

As we noted a few days ago, TV stations must begin posting their public inspection files online at an FCC hosted database beginning August 2, 2012.  To facilitate this process, the FCC has announced that it will host a public demonstration of the database created for this purpose at 10:00 am Eastern time on Tuesday, July 17th

For those who cannot attend in person, the FCC's demonstration of the public file database will be streamed online at www.fcc.gov/live.  This demonstration is intended to show broadcasters (and other interested parties) what the database will look like and how to upload information to the site. 

Meanwhile, the FCC has not unexpectedly denied the NAB request for stay of the rule requiring online posting of the public file. While the NAB has also asked the DC Circuit to stay the rule, it is possible that even a grant of that request may be limited to the political file.  Accordingly, TV stations would be best advised to prepare for the online posting requirement.

Online Public File Requirement for TV Broadcasters Effective August 2, 2012

Delivered... David Silverman | Scene | Thu 5 Jul 2012 5:30 pm

 

The FCC has announced that the obligation for television broadcast stations to post their public inspection files online will become effective August 2, 2012, absent a stay requested by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which has appealed the rule to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

Absent a stay, the rule requires full power and Class A television stations to post any NEW public file documents online at an FCC-hosted website as of August 2nd.  Those broadcasters will have six months or until February 2, 2013 to post PRE-EXISTING public file documents online. 

The political public file, which is the subject of the NAB appeal, will be treated a bit differently.  NEW political public file documents must be posted effective August 2 by only the top four network affiliated stations (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) in the top 50 markets. There is no requirement to post pre-existing political file documents online.

All other TV stations (i.e. non-network affiliated stations in the top 50 markets and ALL TV stations outside of the top 50 markets), do not have to post political public file documents online until July 1, 2014.

While it remains to be seen whether the NAB's request for a stay of these requirements will be granted, the FCC plans to schedule user testing and educational webinars in the near future to ensure that users know how to upload documents to the FCC's website intended for this purpose, and perhaps to ensure that the website can handle the anticipated traffic. 

While TV broadcasters should begin preparing for this requirement, it would be wise to stay tuned for further developments.

Supreme Court Declines Review of Janet Jackson "Wardrobe Malfunction" and Multiple Ownership Rules

Delivered... David Silverman | Scene | Fri 29 Jun 2012 7:00 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court today denied certiorari (i.e. declined review) in two important FCC-related cases pending before it.  First, following the Court's recent decision in the Fox indecency case, which we described here, the Court not surprisingly refused to review the Third Circuit's decision vacating the $550,000 FCC fine for the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" in the 2004 Super Bowl shown on CBS. 

In the Fox case, the Supreme Court found that the FCC had not provided advance notice that it would prosecute cases of "fleeting" indecency.  That decision essentially predetermined that the Supreme Court would deny review of the Super Bowl incident.  While denying cert., however, Chief Justice Roberts issued an unusual separate opinion, noting that fleeting indecent images may have a more lasting impression than indecent words.  Nevertheless, he noted that going forward, braodcasters are on notice that fleeting indecent words and images are both now subject to FCC sanctions.

 

In the second FCC-related Supreme  Court action today, the Court also refused to hear the appeals of the Third Circuit's 2011 Prometheus opinion, affirming most of the FCC's 2008 multiple ownership Order.   The Third Circuit's decision and underlying FCC rules at issue are described here

In denying cert., the Supreme Court refused to reconsider the Third Circuit's decision to leave the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule in place.  This particular aspect of the Prometheus case had been appealed by multiple media companies, including the Tribune Company and Media General.  Many have noted that the rule may well outlast the existence of the daily newspaper, but absent an FCC decision upheld on appeal, the cross-ownership prohibition remains in place, except where otherwise grandfathered.

It certainly has been an interesting week for Supreme Court actions in both media-related decisions and otherwise.  (You may have heard that there was some health care related decision this week as well.)  From an FCC perspective, it will be interesting to see what the Commission does now with respect to both indecency and multiple ownership in view of the recent Supreme Court decisions....not to mention an upcoming election in November.

What does the Supreme Court Indecency Decision Mean for the Long Pending License Renewal Applications?

Delivered... David Silverman | Scene | Mon 25 Jun 2012 11:09 pm

As you know by now, last week the U.S. Supreme Court found the FCC's enforcement of its indecency policy unconstitutional in FCC v. Fox.  As Bob Corn-Revere and Ronnie London described in our Advisory , this case concerned the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards shows televised by Fox as well as a 2003 episode of NYPD Blue televised by ABC.  While the Supreme Court did NOT address the First Amendment issue of whether the FCC can constitutionally prohibit fleeting expletives and momentary nudity, it did find that the FCC's enforcement of those policies with regard to these particular shows violated due process, because the networks had no advance notice of them.

As we noted more than a year ago, there are approximately 300 TV station renewal applications from the last renewal cycle still pending due to indecency complaints filed against them.  It is unclear how many of them relate to these particular shows, but to the extent any renewal applications have been held up due to complaints against these shows only, it should only be a matter of time before those renewal applications are granted.

Unfortunately, there are still many renewal applications pending due to indecency complaints regarding other shows and networks.  For example, the 2004 CBS Janet Jackson Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction" case remains on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. (DWT represents CBS in that case.)  That case concerns "fleeting images," similar to the "momentary nudity" at issue in the NYPD Blue show.  Accordingly, there is a fair chance that the Supreme Court may decline to review that case, which the Third Circuit Court of Appeals had overturned on similar grounds---lack of advance notice.

Although the Supreme Court remanded the Fox and ABC cases back to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals "for further proceedings consistent with the principles set forth in this opinion," it is difficult to see how the Second Circuit could do anything other than reverse the FCC decisions in these cases.  Of course, the FCC may well wait for finality before acting on the renewal applications held up by these shows, but it is fair to say that it is just a matter of time now....possibly even before the FCC acts on the current round of renewal applications!

Some PACs Stop Running "Electioneering Communication" Ads to Avoid Reporting Requirements

Delivered... David Silverman | Scene | Tue 15 May 2012 11:25 pm

In recent days we have seen political action committees (PACs) claiming they are "prohibited" from running political ads in primary states due to "new rules" regarding "electioneering communications."  As explained below, these claims are incorrect.  What they are really doing is trying to avoid the need to reveal the identity of their contributors, following a US District Court decision in March.

Under Federal Election law, an "electioneering communication" is a broadcast, cable or satellite communication that refers to a clearly identified candidate for federal office within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of an election, targeted to 50,000 or more people in the state or district the candidate seeks to represent. For President and Vice Presidential candidates, an "electioneering communication" is one that can be received by 50,000 or more people within 30 days of a state primary or the nominating convention.

By federal statute, sponsors of "electioneering communications" must disclose the names and addresses of each donor who contributed $1000 or more to the sponsoring organization. This is is the provision that led to the US District Court decision at issue.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) enacted a rule requiring disclosure of donors whose donation was made "for the purpose of furthering electioneering communications."  Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen challenged this rule on grounds that it created a loophole in the law.  According to Van Hollen, fewer than 10% of the contributors to electioneering communications in 2010 were disclosed to the FEC.

The US District Court agreed with Van Hollen, holding that the statute requires disclosure of ALL contributors of $1000 or more to organizations placing "electioneering communications," even if the contributions were not made for the specific purpose of funding the electioneering communication.  The number of contributors that would need to be disclosed under this ruling could be quite high, particularly since the US Supreme Court allowed corporations and unions to fund independent electioneering communications in its landmark 2009 Citizens United case discussed here.

 So, while some PACs erroneously claim they are "prohibited" from running electioneering communications due to a recent "FCC" ruling, the truth is that they do not want to subject themselves to the broad disclosure requirements established in the Van Hollen case.  The case is on appeal to the DC Circuit, so we should soon know whether the FEC or the US District Court was right in their respective interpretations of the disclosure statute.

In the meantime, "electioneering communications" can be avoided by not referring to a specific candidate, by avoiding states where primaries are to occur within 30 days or by communicating the message to fewer than 50,000 people.  While these ads will still be considered "independent expenditures" that have their own FEC reporting requirements, they are not nearly as burdensome as those recently imposed by the court on "electioneering communications."

Protect Your Call Signs and Other Marks in the .xxx Domain

Delivered... David Silverman | Scene | Wed 13 Jul 2011 10:19 pm

ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has approved the use of .xxx as a domain (like .com) for the adult entertainment industry. In September, broadcasters and others with registered marks will have an opportunity to reserve their marks defensively in the .xxx domain.   

While adult-oriented website operators may be interested in reserving spots in the .xxx top level domain (TLD), broadcasters may be just as eager to prevent their call signs and other marks from being used in that TLD where they may be associated with adult content. The ICM Registry, which will operate the .xxx domain, will allow those who own registered trademarks to reserve .xxx domain names to prevent others from using their marks in that domain.

 Beginning September 7, 2011, there will be a 30-day “Sunrise” period during which adult-oriented website operators will be able to register their marks and domain names in the .xxx TLD. Simultaneously, non-adult-oriented trademark owners can file to block use of their call signs and other marks in that domain, so long as those marks are nationally registered in the United States or any other country.  Registered marks could include call signs, slogans or company names.  For example, Google could secure a domain reservation for google.xxx to prevent an adult-oriented company from actively using that domain name. In registering defensively,  broadcasters would not gain use of the .xxx website, but rather would go a long way toward ensuring that no one else can use it for an adult-oriented website. Broadcasters will not be able to prevent use of unregistered marks or call signs, misspellings of registered marks, or mere domain names during the Sunrise period.

It will be extremely beneficial for broadcasters and others to reserve their registered marks during the Sunrise period if they do not want to see those marks used as domain names in the .xxx TLD for an adult-oriented website. This is especially true since the next registration period, the so-called “Landrush” period beginning Oct. 24, 2011, will allow adult-oriented services to apply for any .xxx domain names unclaimed during the Sunrise period. During the Landrush period, there will be no simultaneous opportunity for broadcasters or others to defensively block use of their call signs or other marks in the .xxx TLD.

Owners of unregistered marks or call signs, as well as those who simply miss the Sunrise period will still be able to take advantage of various dispute resolution measures such as the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) to recover domain names registered in the .xxx domain. Owning a prior registered or common law mark could well be grounds for recovery of a similar .xxx domain name in a UDRP proceeding, but UDRP proceedings can be expensive to prosecute. By contrast, the simple reservation of registered marks during the Sunrise period beginning in September—the cost of which is estimated at between $200 and $500 per domain name—could avoid needless cost and effort later on.

Additional details can be found in our Client Advisory on this subject.

FCC Confirms $4000 Fine For Televising Video News Release Without Sponsorship ID

Delivered... David Silverman | Scene | Fri 8 Jul 2011 10:24 pm

 

The FCC has issued a Forfeiture Order, confirming a $4000 fine levied against a Minneapolis TV station for airing a video news release ("VNR") without sponsorship identification.  This case was previously discussed in our March 25th blog entry, when the Commission issued a Notice of Apparent Liability ("NAL") against the station for this violation.  The primary lesson to be learned from this decision is that video supplied for free may require sponsorship ID if furnished for the purpose of identifying a product or furthering a sponsor's message beyond any independent (i.e., newsworthy) reason a station has for airing it.

In arguing against the NAL, the station put forth several arguments, all of which were rejected by the FCC.  The station argued that its use of a video supplied by General Motors for a story about the popularity of convertibles in the summer was equivalent to use of a company press release, which the FCC has found acceptable in the past.  But the FCC said that use of a press release without sponsorship ID is permitted only if references to products or brand names are "transient or fleeting."  Here, by contrast, the FCC found the identification of GM cars to be "disproportionate to the subject matter of the news report."

The station also argued that it paid its parent network for the video.  While the FCC acknowleged that station payment for video usually indicates an independent motive for airing it, the FCC rejected that argument here, finding that payments between the station and its network were "little more than intercompany accounting ledger entries."  Furthermore, the network did not pay for the video, which was received unsolicited.

The Commission reaffirmed its earlier finding that this forfeiture does not violate the station's First Amendment rights or the anti-censorship provisions of the Communications Act.  Rather, the Commission noted that the sponsorship identification rules are merely disclosure requirements that do not restrict speech in any way.

This decision reinforces the need for TV stations to be aware of commercially supplied videos, whether or not they are supplied with or in exchange for money or any other consideration.  If a station's use of such video contains anything more than "transient or fleeting" images of commercial products, sponsorship identification may well be required.  In this case, the station could have complied merely by providing a visual credit stating "Video provided by General Motors."  RTNDA guidelines on the use of VNRs can be found here

College Station Fined $10,000 for Public File Violation

Delivered... David Silverman | Scene | Wed 29 Jun 2011 9:30 pm

As an FCC Forfeiture Order issued today proves, even noncommercial educational college radio stations need to comply with FCC rules to avoid big fines.  The Commission confirmed a $10,000 forfeiture against Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire originally proposed in 2007.  The college argued that the forfeiture should be reduced based on the station's noncommercial educational status, but the FCC said there is no policy justifying reduction on that basis.

We have previously noted Commission forfeitures in the range of $10,000 to $14,000 for public file violations.  Today's decision confirms that the commercial or noncommercial status of the station is not a factor when it comes to compliance issues.  In this case, the station was missing 14 quarterly issues/programs lists from its public inspection file.

The Commission has become quite vigilant lately, issuing fines and forfeitures for numerous rule violations.  The bottom line is that all FCC rules must be followed to avoid monetary penalties, commercial or noncommercial status notwithstanding.

Is it Madness to Say "March Madness" On the Air? – The Trademark Issue

Delivered... David Silverman | Scene | Mon 7 Mar 2011 2:25 am

Like "Super Bowl," "Olympics" and "NASCAR," "March Madness" is also a term that is protected by trademark law, and its unauthorized use in commercials could result in legal liability.  But the development of March Madness is a bit more interesting, and you can probably thank Brent Musburger for that.  The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) has been using the term "March Madness" to describe its state high school basketball tournament since the early 1940's.  Broadcaster Brent Musburger went to journalism school in Chicago, then worked for both a Chicago newspaper and television station, where he almost certainly covered that basketball tournament and was well aware of the term "March Madness."  When he later began covering the NCAA basketball tournament for CBS in 1982, he naturally began referring to that tournament as "March Madness" as well.

As you know, the term caught on.  It ultimately led to a trademark infringement suit in 1996, and that led to a joint venture between IHSA and NCAA, called the March Madness Athletic Association (MMAA) which now holds all trademark rights to the term "March Madness."  In fact, they own 15 federal registrations containing that term, covering everything from the actual tournaments to broadcasting and webcasting the tournaments to mugs, T-shirts, towels, and even carbonated soft drinks.

Although MMAA has not been as aggressive as the NFL in pursuing third parties who use the term "March Madness" without authorization and it is not protected by federal statute like "Olympics," the use of this term for commercial purposes without permission from the MMAA is trademark infringement and should be avoided.  As intellectual property owners are becoming increasingly protective of their rights, use of any intellectual property without consent can be dangerous.  

On the other hand, there is no law against using the term "March Madness" on the air to identify the NCAA basketball tournament that begins next week in discussions of the tournament in news, sports and talk programs, since that is the very thing the trademark describes.  What you should NOT do, however, is use that term in a commercial context to promote some other service or product, whether it is car sales, electronic stores, or anything else, as "March Madness."  While such use may or may not result in a legal action, the bottom line is that it could result in liability and that is a risk no station should take.

FCC Fines TV Station $10,000 for Requring Appointment to View Public Inspection File

Delivered... David Silverman | Scene | Tue 8 Feb 2011 10:53 pm

The FCC released a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture today, proposing a $10,000 fine against a public TV station in Los Angeles for requiring an appointment to view the station's public inspection file. This case shows how seriously the FCC takes the requirement of open and unfettered access to a broadcast station's public file.  An FCC agent visited the station's main studio twice without identifying himself as an FCC employee.  Both times, the station's security guard refused to let him see the station's public inspection file or speak with the station manager without an appointment.

On the third visit, the FCC agent identified himself as such and was allowed to view the station's public inspection file "after a thorough examination of the agent's badge and several phone calls to [station] personnel." 

The public inspection file was found to be complete. However, the station was fined $10,000 for "willfully and repeatedly" failing to make the public inspection file available.  The FCC stressed that "stations cannot require members of the public to make appointments to access a station's public inspection file."

Note that the FCC had no issues with the contents or completeness of the public inspection file.  The only issue was access to the public file.  Although the station may appeal this fine, this should be a lesson to all stations to make the public inspection file to all members of the public during regular business hours....no appointments required.

FCC Imposes Fines Up to $20,000 for EEO Violations

Delivered... David Silverman | Scene | Thu 30 Dec 2010 10:24 pm

The FCC has issued Notices of Apparent Liability against two radio licensees for apparent EEO violations at their respective station clusters. These NALs, issued on the next to last day of the FCC's business year, are the first to address EEO violations in a year and a half. The common thread in both NALs was the licensee's failure to properly recruit for new hires, relying primarily on "walk-ins" or referrals in lieu of the "wide dissemination" required for information about job openings.  In one case, where the licensee failed to widely disseminate information about 28 job openings, the FCC proposed a fine of $20,000.  In the other case, where the station owner was able to document recruitment efforts for some of its openings, the FCC proposed a fine of $8000 for the six jobs where the required recruitment efforts were found lacking. 

In the first NAL, the $20,000 proposed forfeiture was based on a finding that the licensee failed to properly recruit for 28 of the 29 full-time vacancies filled over a six year period.  Instead, the licensee relied on "walk-ins" and referrals for six vacancies, and used the Internet or on-air ads for 22 vacancies.  These methods alone do not constitute sufficient dissemination of job vacancies under FCC rules.  In a post last year, we explained that the FCC does not consider Internet advertising alone to be sufficient for recruitment purposes, and questioned whether that policy is appropriate in this day and age.

Other violations by this licensee included the failure to keep records of the number and source of interviewees and the resulting violation of FCC rules requiring such information to be kept in the station's public inspection file.  The lack of records meant the licensee could not adequately analyze its EEO recruitment program to ensure that it was achieving broad outreach, also an FCC rule violation.  The combination of rule violations and number of hires involved was found sufficiently egregious to justify a $20,000 forfeiture.

In the second NAL, the FCC found insufficient recruitment efforts for six of 24 job openings.  Rather, the licensee aired "generic" ads about working at the stations, even when there were no specific openings, and hired three of the resulting "walk-ins."  The licensee also hired one employee referred by word of mouth, one from a business referral and one from an employee referral.   Although such hiring methods are not prohibited, the FCC does not consider them to be sufficient public recruitment for the openings that were filled.   Additional recruiting sources must be used to satisfy the FCC's current requirements for "wide dissemination."

Other violations cited by the FCC in the second case included the licensee's failure to list specific job titles in its EEO public file report for seven new hires, all of whom were classified as "other."   In so doing, the licensee also violated the rule that requires information about the jobs filled to be placed in the station's public inspection file.  This NAL resulted in a proposed forfeiture of $8000.

Both licensees have the right to respond and can ask the FCC to reduce or cancel the proposed forfeitures based on the specific facts.  However, these two NALs show that the FCC is once again getting tough on enforcement of its EEO rules and licensees would be well advised to take any steps necessary to insure strict compliance with those rules.  For further information about a licensee's EEO obligations, see our advisory setting out the basics of the FCC's EEO rules and our most recent advisory on the requirements for the annual EEO public inspection file report

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