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FCC Upholds $44,000 Fine for WLS

Issue concerns sponsor ID rules

A proposed fine against WLS(AM), in Chicago, has progressed to a forfeiture order to the tune of $44,000.

Cumulus Media owns the station the FCC says violated the sponsor ID rules. The licensee disputes that and asked for the fine to be reduced.

The case began in 2009 when the Enforcement Bureau received a complaint that the station aired a program on behalf of the Workers Independent News without making it clear that the program was an ad, rather than a news story.

WLS told the commission it aired several ads of various lengths, promos, two two-hour programs and an additional half-hour program on behalf of the group. The station asserted all of the ads referenced “Workers Independent News” and identified the narrator, but did not specifically state that the program material was sponsored, paid for and provided by WIN.

“Despite this omission,” states the FCC in its decision, WLS contended the material satisfied the sponsor ID requirements except for 11 of the ads. The agency disagreed and proposed the $44,000 fine in 2012.

The broadcaster thought the fine should be $4,000, and asserted that the FCC “mechanically” applied the base fine to the 11 times the ads aired, which raised the fine. The station also blamed the incident on “inadvertent employee error,” which the company says has now been corrected.

The agency says it can fine a licensee up to $37,500 for each violation of the sponsor ID rules or for each day, up to a total cap of $375,000. In its decision, the commission says it can find no legal basis on which to reduce the amount, saying “inadvertent employee errors” do not justify that. “In the absence of any credible mitigating factors,” the FCC said the proposed amount stands and the commission directed WLS to pay within 15 days.