Radio Station Fined $10,000 for Not Providing Immediate Access to Public File

This month, the Enforcement Bureau of the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture and Order (“NAL”) in the amount of $10,000 against a Texas noncommercial broadcaster for failing to promptly make its public inspection file available. For the delay of a few hours, the Commission proposed a fine of $10,000 and reminded the licensee that stations must make their public inspection file available for inspection at any time during regular business hours and that a simple request to review the public file is all it takes to mandate access.

According to the NAL, an individual from a competitor arrived at the station at approximately 10:45 a.m. and asked to review the station public inspection file. Station personnel informed the individual that the General Manager could give him access to the public files, but that the General Manager would not arrive at the station until “after noon.” The individual returned to the studio at 12:30 p.m.; however, the General Manager had still not arrived at the studio. According to the visiting individual, the receptionist repeatedly asked him if he “was with the FCC.” Ultimately, the receptionist was able to reach the General Manager by phone, and the parties do not dispute that at that time, the individual asked to see the public file. During that call, the General Manager told the receptionist to give the visitor access to the file. According to the visitor, when the General Manager finally arrived, he too asked if the individual was from the FCC, and then proceeded to monitor the individual’s review of the public file.

After the station visit, the competitor filed a Complaint with the FCC alleging that the station’s public file was incomplete and that the station improperly denied access to the public inspection file. The FCC then issued a Letter of Inquiry to the station, requesting that the station respond to the allegations and to provide additional information. The station denied that any items were missing from the public file and also denied that it failed to provide access to the file.

Section 73.3527 of the FCC’s Rules requires that noncommercial stations make their public inspection file available at any time during normal business hours. In issuing the NAL, the Enforcement Bureau found that the station violated FCC rules and precedent, which prohibit a station from requiring visitors to make an appointment or return at a later time to inspect a station’s public inspection file. In this case, delaying the inspection for a few hours was sufficient to trigger the violation. The Enforcement Bureau noted that even though the station provided the visiting individual access to the public inspection file later in the day, that was insufficient to overcome the station’s failure to provide access to the file when the individual arrived in the morning.

The Enforcement Bureau also noted that while stations may ask visitors seeking access to the station public inspection file for personal identification for security reasons, they cannot ask the visiting individual why they want to see the file and may not inquire as to the identity of the organization the visitor represents. According to the NAL, the station must provide immediate access to the public inspection file during regular business hours, with no questions asked about why the individual is requesting access to the file.

In reaching its decision to assess a fine of $10,000, the Enforcement Bureau did not make a decision as to whether the station public file was complete. Instead, it assessed the base forfeiture amount for a public inspection file violation ($10,000) solely based upon the station’s failure to provide immediate access to the public file. The NAL illustrates once again the importance the FCC places on stations providing immediate and unfettered access to their public inspection file when a visitor arrives at the front door.