According to a recent Notice of Apparent Liability (“NAL”), the FCC proposed two fines totaling $25,000 against a Texas broadcaster for violations of Section 73.1125 (the “Main Studio Rule”) and Section 73.3526 (the “Public Inspection File Rule”) of the Commission’s Rules. The violations were discovered during three separate site visits over a two week period by an agent from the Enforcement Bureau’s Houston Field Office.
The Main Studio Rule establishes the requirements for a station’s main studio, including minimum staffing levels. The FCC requires that licensees maintain a “meaningful management and staff presence” at a station’s main studio. Based on a 1991 decision, the FCC defines “meaningful” as having at least one management level employee and one staff level employee generally present “during normal business hours.” The base forfeiture for violations of Section 73.1125 is $7,000. The Public Inspection File Rule requires broadcasters to maintain, and make available, certain material in their public inspection file, including a station’s current authorization, a current copy of the Public and Broadcasting manual, and a list of programs (“issues-programs list”) broadcast during each quarter of the license term that evidences the station’s most significant treatment of community issues. The base forfeiture for violations of Section 73.3526 is $10,000.
In December 2010, following a complaint, the field agent attempted to conduct an inspection of a Port Neches AM station. The NAL stated that the agent visited the main studio location on numerous occasions during the course of one day, including during regular business hours, but was unable to access the unmanned and locked main studio. A week later, during a second site visit, the agent was able to access the main studio and review the station’s public inspection file which “did not contain a current copy of the station authorization, service contour map, the most recent ownership report, Public and Broadcasting manual, or any issues-programs lists.” During that inspection, the agent observed that the on-air announcer was the station’s sole employee, who “acknowledged that there was no manager at the station” and that the licensee’s president, who was out of the country until the following week, would be able to provide the missing materials. The following week, the agent, expecting that the president had returned to the station, undertook his third site visit. During that final visit, the agent was informed that the president would not return to the U.S. until “sometime in January 2011” and was denied an opportunity to review the station’s public inspection file. According to the NAL, there were three individuals (identified as an “employee and two other disc jockeys”) present at the last inspection. The NAL concluded that “upward adjustments of the base forfeiture amounts are warranted” since “[the] circumstances persisted for a period of time without any apparent Station management oversight or efforts to comply.” Consequently, the Main Studio Rule base fine of $7,000 was upwardly adjusted to $10,000 and the Public inspection File Rule base fine of $10,000 was upwardly adjusted to $15,000, resulting in a total fine of $25,000.