This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters: September 11-September 15, 2023

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC’s Media Bureau entered into a Consent Decree with the licensee of an Illinois Class A television station in which the licensee agreed to pay a $97,000 penalty for filing its license renewal application late and for failing to fully disclose in its license renewal application that it did not properly place all of its required documents into the station’s online public inspection file in a timely manner.  In fact, the licensee had missed uploading virtually all of the required regular public inspection file documentation including 28 Quarterly Issues Programs Lists, all its records concerning its compliance with the commercial limits in children’s programming, all of its children’s television programming reports on the educational and informational programming, and other documentation.  This case shows that repeated paperwork failures, even for a Class A TV station, can result in substantial fines.
  • The Media Bureau also entered into a Consent Decree with the licensee of two Florida AM stations and three FM translator stations for a transfer of control of the licensee without FCC approval.  One of its LLC members had acquired the 40.5% interest of another member, giving the acquiring party 81% of the company, without seeking prior FCC approval.  In a subsequent application to approve that transfer, the licensee acknowledged the violation, and it agreed to pay an $8,000 penalty.  FCC approval is required whenever an owner is to assume a controlling position in a company, even if that owner had been approved on prior FCC applications.
  • An FCC Administrative Law Judge determined that a felony conviction of the owner of a Tennessee AM station did not warrant the revocation of the station’s license.  In 2007, the owner (who was a member of the Tennessee legislature at the time) failed to report on his federal income tax return $330,0000 in profits from his sale of cigarette tax stamps (a felony under the IRS code), and he was convicted of a felony for that failure in 2016.  The Media Bureau subsequently initiated a license revocation hearing, as “it is Commission policy that any felony conviction of a licensee raises the question of whether that licensee possesses the requisite character to continue to hold a Commission license.”  While conceding that the principal had committed a “serious felony,” the ALJ was persuaded that the principal’s crime was “an isolated occurrence that does not suggest a likelihood of future violations; that “enough time had elapsed to show that the principal had remediated his wrong”; that the principal enjoyed significant support from the station’s local community; and that the station had an overall positive record of public service notwithstanding its previous alleged violations of FCC rules.  This case shows that a felony conviction of the principal of a broadcast station does not necessarily result in the loss of a license if the principal can show that the felony was unrelated to broadcast operations and did not suggest that the principal would be an untrustworthy licensee. 
  • The FCC issued a Public Notice reminding broadcasters that the Communications Act requires all “United States-based foreign media outlets” to submit a report containing: 1) the name of such outlet; and 2) a description of the relationship of such outlet to the foreign principal of such outlet, including a description of the legal structure of such relationship and any funding that such outlet receives from such principal.  For purposes of this filing requirement, the term “United States-based foreign media outlet” means an entity that (A) produces or distributes video programming (as defined in section 602 of the Communications Act) that is transmitted, or intended for transmission, by a multichannel video programming distributor (as defined in such section) to consumers in the United States; and (B) would be an agent of a foreign principal for purposes of the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938. The Communications Act defines the term “video programming” as “programming provided by, or generally considered comparable to programming provided by, a television broadcast station.”

This coming week, Annual Regulatory Fees must be paid by commercial broadcast stations through the FCC’s CORES database by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on September 20 (see the FCC’s Public Notice announcing the September 20 deadline).  Late payment of regulatory fees will generally result in a 25% penalty plus interest, so commercial broadcasters should be preparing their fee submissions now to be sure to meet the September 20 deadline. For more on the deadline, and on the other FCC notices that were released to detail the filing obligations, see our Broadcast Law Blog article here.

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog