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Commission Holds Firm on $10,000 for Public File Fine

Those pesky public files strike again.

Those pesky public files strike again.

The Media Bureau handed down a $10,000 fine to a New York licensee for failing to maintain its public file properly. The Federal Communication Commission’s audio division issued a fine to Peconic Public Broadcasting, licensee of WPPB(FM) in Southampton, N.Y., for what the FCC calls willful and repeated violation of its rules.

During the station license renewal process in February 2014, Peconic revealed that its public file was missing 13 quarterly issues/programs lists, a problem that stretched back to Peconic’s acquisition of the station in late 2010. Peconic also said, however, that it had reconstructed the lists based on the station program logs that were maintained in the same publicly accessible room as the station public file.

That doesn’t diminish the violation, however, the Media Bureau said in a March 2015 Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) in which it proposed a $10,000 fine.

Peconic filed a Petition for Reconsideration, arguing that the commission should examine the context of when and why the infraction took place, take into account that the violations were “entirely inadvertent and in no way purposeful or willful.” It pointed out that Peconic has a clean record otherwise.

“[We are a] small facility with locally produced programming and locally managed by an unpaid manager … the public-radio equivalent of a ‘mom-and-pop-operation,” the licensee wrote. Peconic added that it acquired the station in 2010 in an effort to save the station after the prior licensee, Long Island University, decided to sell the facility. Peconic said the station went from a staff of 14 and a budget of $1.4 million to “a handful of employees and volunteers, and an eviscerated budget being raised virtually on a day-to-day basis,” with virtually all funding being used for programming and all paid station administrative positions abolished.

In its filing, Peconic Public Broadcasting President Wallace A. Smith expressed his “sincere regret” at neglecting to take better care of the station’s public file “in the midst of the battle to secure and stabilize the station.”

But as it has done with other missing public file occurrences, the FCC took a firm stance.

The bureau reiterated that the forfeiture amount was in accordance with the Communications Act, and that any request for a reduction in fine — which Peconic requested based on financial hardship — would only be considered if the licensee submitted required documentation, such as federal tax returns. Peconic submitted no such documentation, the bureau said.

The bureau also found that Peconic’s actions were willful and repeated; failing to update the public files was a conscious action and was repeated more than once, the bureau said. “Violations resulting from inadvertent error are willful violations,” the bureau wrote in its decision.

The bureau did move to grant Peconic’s application for license renewal.