Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Fine Upheld in Case of J&J’s Missing Public Files

Even if outsider mischief is alleged, the licensee is liable, the FCC says

Imagine that paperwork is missing from your public file — and you suspect the GM of a competing station as the one responsible.

Not a great situation; and it came up in a case in Michigan. But the FCC says that while a station might blame a competitor for meddling with its public files, the licensee ultimately remains responsible to ensure its files are accurate and complete.

The commission has denied a petition for reconsideration from J&J Broadcasting of Ironwood, Mich., which sought reduction of a fine.

J&J is licensee of WIMI(FM) and WJMS(AM). It was fined for two alleged missteps: failing to maintain its quarterly issues/programs lists in the public inspection file, and failing to notify the commission about a change in its antenna ownership. In February 2010, J & J acquired the stations and the antenna structure. Nearly 18 months later, an agent from the Enforcement Bureau’s Detroit Office inspected the stations’ main studio and found that five quarterly issues/programs lists were missing from the public inspection file and that the owner registration for the antenna structure had not been updated.

The FCC earlier reduced the amount of the original proposed penalty because of J&J’s history of compliance. The amount was lowered from $13,000 to $10,500. But a subsequent petition to cut the amount further was denied because the FCC has strict guidelines for reconsidering a ruling, such as when it makes material error or omission in its original order, or if new facts emerge. The petition from J&J failed to present such information, according to the commission.

But even if the commission were to consider J&J’s argument, it said, it still would find no basis for reconsideration, most notably because J&J did not deny that the issues/program lists were, in fact, missing. “Rather it argues that a forfeiture reduction is warranted because the issues/program lists were in the file until they were deliberately removed by the general manager of its major competitor,” the FCC said in its order. In addition, the files remained missing for more than two months before inspection by an FCC field agent.

Even if mischief was afoot in this case of the missing file, J&J Broadcasting bears the responsibility to maintain its issues/programs lists, despite alleged actions of any ominous outsider. “The fact that the initial removal of the issues/programs lists may have resulted from the actions of a third party does not diminish J&J’s liability for failing to identify and correct that deficiency in a timely manner,” the order said.

Because J&J failed to provide any new information or raise new arguments, the commission denied J&J’s petition and ordered the licensee to submit the $10,500 within 30 days of the order.