If you are a noncom educational station, could you air an underwriting announcement from, say, a pizza parlor that tells listeners it uses “only the freshest ingredients” in a “fun family environment”?
Be careful; the wrong answer could cost you.
A Texas noncom station is being fined $20,000 for violating the rules against airing advertisements. The announcement by the Enforcement Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission is likely to be of interest to broadcast lawyers and noncom programmers because it deals with “good faith” discretion that the commission expects from noncom educational stations in such cases. It’s also notable because it’s a hefty fine, and the Enforcement Bureau staff used clear language to draw the attention of other noncoms to this ruling, in effect saying “listen up.”
Bureau Chief Kris Anne Monteith issued the notice of apparent liability against Power Radio Corp., licensee of KXPW(LP) in Georgetown, Texas, saying the station had aired prohibited underwriting announcements and that the violations were “willful and repeated.” The case involves eight announcements that aired repeatedly in 2003 and 2004. The broadcaster claimed that the announcements were revised twice in an attempt to conform.
The commission staff ruled, “We conclude that they appear to constitute prohibited advertisements because they invite or urge business patronage, distinguish favorably the respective underwriters from their competitors by stating or implying that they offer superior service, products or price, and describe their underwriters through comparative and qualitative references made either directly or by customer testimonials.”
The commission gave examples of several specific phrases from the announcements, such as “Our dedicated, friendly staff loves children and provides a safe atmosphere for you and your child” and “It’s been named America’s number one water park … filled with cutting-edge attractions.” The FCC ruling comes with transcripts attached so you can read the announcements yourself.
The station’s cause wasn’t helped by the length of the announcements, at least some of which exceeded 30 seconds. “Although the commission has not imposed quantitative limits on the length of underwriting announcements, it has found that the longer the announcements, the more likely they are to contain material, as here, that is inconsistent with the ‘identification only’ purpose of such announcements,” it wrote.
“We believe that a substantial forfeiture is necessary because of the lengthy period of time over which the prohibited announcements were aired, the large number of announcements and broadcasts involved, and their often blatantly promotional nature,” Monteith concluded.
The commission also issued a lecture in its NAL: “We further caution PRC and all noncommercial educational licensees that, in future cases, violations of the type encountered here may result in even harsher sanctions than we propose in this case. Licensees have an ongoing duty to understand and carefully abide by the limitations in the Act and in our rules on advertising on noncommercial stations. The multiple, longstanding and blatant nature of the violations here reflect an unacceptable disregard for that duty and we intend to deter such behavior in the future by appropriate necessary means, including substantially higher forfeitures.”