As we have reported on numerous occasions, $10,000 has become the standard fine for even minor public inspection file violations. That proved true again this month, with the FCC issuing a number of $10,000 fines for failure to include all Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists in a station’s public inspection file.
The FCC’s public inspection file requirements are found at Sections 73.3526 (commercial stations) and 73.3527 (noncommercial stations) of the FCC's Rules. They require broadcast licensees to maintain particular information in their files, including the Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists, and to update the material in the file regularly throughout the license term.
In one decision, the FCC assessed a $10,000 fine against a noncommercial radio station in Louisiana for excluding twenty-four Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists (six years’ worth) from its file over a seven-year period. The licensee had disclosed the problem in its license renewal application. In a second decision, the FCC fined a South Carolina commercial radio station $10,000 for ten absent Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists over a four-year period. Like the first case, the fact that the documents were missing from the file was disclosed in the station’s license renewal application. The station belatedly placed the missing documents in the file when it filed its license renewal application.
In both cases, the FCC rejected requests to reduce the $10,000 fine despite the licensees’ history of rule compliance and the second licensee’s corrective action to provide the missing documents. The FCC stated that "where lapses occur in maintaining the public file, neither the negligent acts or omissions of station employees or agents, nor the subsequent remedial actions undertaken by the licensee, excuse or nullify a licensee's rule violation." Despite the penalties, however, the FCC did not find the violations to constitute a "serious violation" of the FCC's Rules requiring a hearing, and granted the related license renewal applications.
In a third decision, the FCC assessed a $10,000 fine against a California licensee for failing to include six Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists in its file over a three-year period. The absence of the documents was discovered during a February 2010 FCC inspection of the station's main studio. At that time, the station manager explained that the missing lists coincided with the departure of the employee who had maintained them. In response to the FCC’s subsequent Notice of Apparent Liability, the licensee argued that the fine should be cancelled or reduced because the current licensee did not obtain control of the station until after the missing lists should have been placed in the file, and asserted that current owners cannot be held responsible for the violations of prior owners. The FCC disagreed, stating that "[t]he fact that the ownership of the company changed hands does not affect the company's liability."