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Pacifica Agrees to Pay $25,000 for WBAI Rule Violations

Its license is renewed for two years; all Pacifica stations are subject to compliance plan

Pacifica Foundation, the owner of noncom station 99.5 WBAI(FM) New York, has agreed to a consent decree with the FCC that will include paying a $25,000 penalty for repeated on-air violations related to underwriting language and non-disclosure of sponsored programming.

The organization acknowledged that it violated the underwriting laws and sponsorship ID rules. WBAI also has been granted license renewal of two years as opposed to the normal eight. Its renewal application had been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation into seven separate informal objections and a petition to deny a full eight-year renewal.

As part of the consent decree, Pacifica must designate a compliance officer who oversees developing and implementing a plan to ensure that underwriting and sponsorship identification laws are followed by all employees. This includes drafting a compliance manual and implementation of a training program.

Pacifica also must file compliance reports 90 days after the effective date of the decree and a year year after.

The compliance plan is applicable to all Pacifica-owned stations, including 94.1 KPFA(FM) Berkeley, Calif., 90.7 KPFK(FM) Los Angeles, 89.3 WPFW(FM) Washington and 90.1 KPFT(FM) Houston.

The petition to deny WBAI’s license renewal was filed by Pacifica Safety Net, a non-profit comprising current and former Pacifica board of directors, along with donors and listeners to its non-commercial FM signals. They did not advocate for license revocation but called instead for sanctions.

In its petition, Pacifica Safety Net cited examples between 2014 and 2022 of WBAI routinely airing paid programming without identifying the sponsors. Examples included producer Gary Null promoting nutritional supplements and host Christine Brisdale presenting a series of shows regarding a technology that purportedly would relieve anxiety by listening to an audio file through headphones.

Pacifica Safety Net provided verbatim transcripts from the broadcasts on which the hosts would promote the products as a benefit for donating to support the station. The petition included a WBAI Treasurer’s Report from 2017 showing that Null would retain the majority of the proceeds of the products and services offered on his shows.

The commission also said that the language used in the examples violated its rules on acceptable language for underwriting announcements, including calls to action, comparative and qualitative comparisons and inducements to buy products or services created by either the program host or their guests on the shows.

The commission said its investigation is complete and it will grant WBAI its two-year license term after the penalty is paid in total. If Pacifica demonstrates compliance during the period, the decree will be terminated afterward.

(Read the consent decree.)