Fines of $20,000 for violations of the obligations to prepare and file Children’s Television Reports have been flowing out from the FCC as it works its way through license renewal applications filed by television stations over the last year. We wrote about a number of these fines here, when the first wave of fines was issued by the FCC, mostly dealing with Class A TV stations. In the last two weeks, the fines have continued, with a few targeting full power television stations, and many others hitting Class A stations. In several cases, the fines reached $20,000, and included fines not only for the failure to file the reports with the FCC on a timely basis, but also the late placement of the reports into the station’s public file, and the failure to report the deficiencies in compliance on the license renewal forms. There were new cases involving Class A television stations and, as with the last batch of these cases, the Commission made clear that the licensees could give up their Class A status to avoid the proposed fines – not mentioning that, if they did so, they would also be giving up their status as primary station licensees, meaning that they would be secondary to any new full power TV construction (for a new station or a modification of an existing station) and would also lose any protection that they otherwise would have in the repacking of the television band in the upcoming incentive auctions that will sell part of the current TV spectrum to wireless users for wireless broadband uses.
The cases decided in the last two weeks include a $20,000 proposed fine to a full-power station in Louisiana that did not timely file 18 Form 398 Reports during the license term ($17,000 for the late filings and $3000 for not reporting the late filings in the renewal application). In another case involving a proposed $20,000 fine, a Georgia Class A station had failed to timely file 20 Form 398 Reports, and also did not complete 15 Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and place those reports in its public file on a timely basis. With the online public file, compliance with the Quarterly Issues Programs list requirement can be monitored by the FCC, even though such reports are not filed at the FCC. A third $20,000 fine was given to a Class A station that was late with 25 children's television reports, and failed to identify the failures on the renewal, even though the FCC had inquired about the status of 7 of those reports before the renewal was submitted, and the licensee had admitted its failures to comply with the rules. $10,000 of the fine was attributed to the late-filed public file documents, $7000 to the late-filing of the Form 398s, and $3000 to the failure to admit the violations in the license renewal.
A Class A station in North Carolina that had failed to file any Form 398 reports from 2005 through 2012 was notified of a proposed $16,000 fine - $10,000 for the failure to place the reports in the public file, $3000 for failure to timely file the reports with the FCC, and $3000 for failing to report the violations on its renewal application. Another Class A station is subject to a proposed $15,000 fine - $12,000 for failure to file 19 reports on a timely basis (even though 10 of them were filed within 10 days of the due date) and $3000 for the failure to mention the late-filings in the station renewal application. Another $15,000 fine was proposed for another Class A station that was late with 22 reports (only 10 of which were more than 10 days late). Several other cases resulted in smaller proposed fines ($3000 for 3 late reports – one over a year late and two over 6 months late; $9000 for a station that filed 7 late and failed to recognize the failure on the renewal; $9000 for another station that prepared the reports and put them in its public file, but forgot to file them with the FCC for 5 years - $6000 for the failure to file and $3000 for failing to disclose the problems in the renewal; and several other smaller fines).
While these cases reveal not only that the FCC will fine stations that are late with their required FCC filings, they also seem to emphasize that stations need to report on their license renewal forms violations of the filing requirements – as in almost every case the failure to report the violation resulted in a separate portion of the fine – usually adding about $3000 to the proposed amount. But a new decision released today seems to contradict that notion - actually raising the $3000 base fine for failure to timely file an FCC form to $9000 for a station that had 17 late-filed Form 398 reports - late-filings that were all reported by the licensee on its renewal application. Despite the voluntary disclosure, the Commission concluded that the number of late filings justified an increase in the base fine.
So what is the advice? For stations that have not filed their renewals, be prepared to admit problems to avoid some fines, but don't expect that the admission will eliminate liability for all fines. But, more importantly, be careful to file these reports on a timely basis in the first place, as full compliance is the only way to avoid any liability. It is clear that the Commission is not being lenient in its enforcement of the children's television rules, so assure your compliance now.