The Federal Communications Commission does not look favorably on an attempt to thwart investigation of station violations, as it did in the case of Chinese Voice of Golden City (CVGC), the former licensee of a low-power station in Las Vegas.
In November 2019, the Media Bureau alerted CVGC that its license for station KQLS expired on Dec. 13, 2018, after the bureau learned that the station had been operating for more than a year at a spot different than what was agreed upon. The licensee looks as though it “withheld material information … and made incorrect statements to the commission … when it repeatedly claimed that the station’s actual transmitter site was never changed,” the bureau said at the time.
The result of that type of unauthorized action includes expiration of the license and deletion of call letters.
In April 2021, the Enforcement Bureau sent a letter of inquiry to determine whether CVGC was continuing to operate its station. In response, in May 2021 CVGC filed a motion to quash the inquiry as well as a motion for investigative stay of the bureau’s inquiries into whether CVGC violated the Communications Act and FCC Rules by continuing to operate the station. CVGC also filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, arguing that its station license had not expired as the FCC had determined.
CVGC argued that when it submitted it appeal, neither the commission nor the bureau had the right to investigate the allegations against CVGC any longer. The licensee also argued that the Enforcement Bureau did not have the authority to respond to the licensee’s motions — including the motion to quash and the motion for investigative stay.
But the commission said that the motion to quash and a subsequent application for review were CVGC’s attempt to challenge the bureau’s authority to issue a letter of inquiry. An appellate court has jurisdiction, the commission said, but only over the specific matters before it. And so the court’s determination of whether the station’s license expired or not on Dec. 13, 2018, was a totally separate matter from the enforcement investigation of CVGC’s conduct that occurred after it was informed that its licensed expired.
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Even if the appeal to the court had still been pending, CVGC’s assumption is wrong, the commission said, because the point is moot — at the time, the appeal was no longer pending. As a result, the commission dismissed the portions of the licensee’s application that challenged the bureau’s right to investigate the station as it waited for a ruling by the court. As a result, the commission also rejected CVGC’s argument that its pending appeal stripped the commission of its right to investigate the licensee’s post-expiration conduct.
The commission also confirmed that the bureau properly dismissed CVGC’s motion to quash.
The bureau denied those motions but CVGC persisted and filed an application for review and a second motion for investigative stay.
The commission also disagreed with CVGC’s interpretation that its license should have been preserved as the commission reviewed the Media Bureau’s decision and review. But those kinds of protections apply when a licensee is waiting for the review of a renewal application. And that does not apply here because CVGC never filed a renewal application.
CVGC also argued that the Communications Act directs the commission to “give great consideration and review before ordering a station off the air.” The FCC disagreed. That part of the act refers to continuing a license that’s already in effect while a renewal application is pending. In the case of CVGC, no review was pending.
The commission went on to say that granting CVGC’s would in fact harm the public interest. “Were we to grant the application and suspend the letter of inquiry, it would set a precedent that would enable an appellant in a licensing matter to avoid any scrutiny of its conduct,” the FCC said. “We will not do so.”
As a result, the commission moved to dismiss CVGC’s application for review and denied the motion for investigative stay. The FCC also ordered the licensee to submit its response to the bureau’s letter within 14 days.