Public File Refresher
Aug 1, 2010 1:00 AM, By Harry Martin
How much FCC immunity do radio stations buy when they participate in the Alternative Broadcast Inspection Program (ABIP) operated by state broadcast associations? Here’s an example of a situation where a station did not receive any immunity at all.
An FM station in Connecticut was asked by a visitor to see the licensee’s articles of incorporation and bylaws, but they were not in the public file. The requester later wrote the station asking again for copies of the documents, but got nothing. He complained to the FCC, which asked the station for its side of the story. The station responded that it had not kept its corporate documents in the public file until shortly after the requester asked for them, at which time the corporate documents were being reviewed by the licensee’s lawyer. The station pointed to its clean record in several ABIP inspections. These defenses were unsuccessful, and the station was fined $1,250.
ABIP is a voluntary inspection program that merely protects the licensee from random FCC inspections for a period of time. The results of ABIP inspections, which are provided to the local FCC field office, do fend off official inspections, but the program does not protect licensees from liability for violations that are brought to the FCC’s attention in different contexts (e.g. through a citizen complaint or a complaint by a competitor) even if the violations should have been uncovered during an ABIP inspection.
While it is true there is little if any demand to see broadcast public files, the public file rule is still on the books and is one of the favorite items, in addition to EAS logs, that an FCC inspector will ask for. To comply with the rule, commercial radio stations should make sure they have the following in their local public inspection files:
- The station’s current license with the signature of the issuing FCC staff member and the most recent renewal of license certificate.
- Any outstanding construction permits for facility changes (until licensed).
- The most recent ownership report, usually the most recent biennial report.
- Contracts and instruments listed in the ownership report, including organizational documents, LMAs, JSAs, equity pledge agreements and other agreements affecting ownership (e.g., options, buy-sells or rights of first refusal).
- Pending applications for modified facilities (until a construction permit is issued).
- The current contour map.
- Pending assignment or transfer-of-control applications until such transactions are consummated — then the assignment authorization, consummation notice and ultimately a new ownership report.
- Renewal applications and related public announcements (until renewal is granted).
- Requests for special temporary authorizations to be replaced by responsive approval letters from the FCC.
- Political file (records showing disposition of requests for time by political candidates).
- Annual EEO public file reports and, if applicable, midterm EEO reports.
- The Public and Broadcasting FCC manual (available on the Audio Division’s website).
- Letters and e-mails from the public regarding station operations.
- Issues/programs lists for each quarter of the current license term.
- Material relating to an FCC investigation, including official correspondence, notices of violation and responses to such inquiries.
The public file should be readily accessible at the main studio during regular business hours. It is best to limit your file to what is required, and it is best not to make your public file available online. Public file requirements for noncommercial stations are generally the same although they are not required to have a political file (unless they provide time to candidates) and they must maintain lists of donors who sponsor particular programs.Dateline For noncommercial radio stations in Iowa and Missouri, the biennial ownership report deadline is October 1.
October 1 is the deadline for radio stations licensed in the following locations to place their Annual EEO Reports in their public files: Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Washington and the Pacific Islands.
The radio station license renewal cycle begins again in 2011, with the first batch of renewals being due on June 1, 2011, for stations in Washington, DC, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.Martin is a member of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, PLC, Arlington, Virginia. E-mail: [email protected]