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FCC Staff Again Reinforces Public File Precedent

Stations should not expect leniency just because they fill out Form 303-S truthfully

Ten grand is the fine to an AM station in Illinois for public file violations. This is another of those cases where a station went to apply for license renewal, essentially turned itself in by self-reporting a past violation — as it is required to do — then asked for leniency and was denied.

The Audio Division at the FCC Media Bureau finalized the forfeiture order against WPW Broadcasting, owner of WLBK in DeKalb, despite appeals from the station to reduce or overturn the original notice of apparent liability.

The fine came about when the station applied for license renewal in 2007. When asked on Form 303-S to verify that the required documentation had been placed in the public inspection file at appropriate times, the station checked No, and explained that issues/programs lists from 2000 to early 2004 had not been filed as required. It said it later created those lists, placed them in the file and took steps to make sure the rules were followed in the future.

The FCC proposed a $10,000 fine, saying the station was responsible for 15 issues/programs lists missing during the license period. The station asked for reduction, arguing among other things that the penalty was inconsistent with similar others; that it had disclosed the violation voluntarily; and that it had since taken corrective measures. WLBK may have been hoping for a reduction to $3,000, as it cited several such “comparable” cases in the past that resulted in fines of that amount.

But the commission now has said those cases were not comparable or consistent with precedent; and anyway it may set its fines case by case. Some of the earlier cases, it said, had been assessed improperly; and others only involved incomplete files.

The FCC staff reiterated that stations should disclose violations voluntarily and take corrective action promptly; but it again explained that revealing a past problem only when required to do so at license renewal is not cause for reduction of a fine.

And, as it has in the past, it said that corrective action to comply in the future is expected of all licensees; it doesn’t mitigate a violation.