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NCE Sanctioned With License Limitations and $12,000 Fine

Rhode Island FM slapped for incomplete public file

Failing to keep up a station’s public inspection file can lead to a stiff fine and affect its license renewal — even if the situation could be blamed in part on some forgetful college students.

The Federal Communications Commission’s Media Bureau has notified Bryant University of apparent liability for a $12,000 fine for failure to keep the public inspection file updated properly at WJMF(FM) in Smithfield, R.I.

While applying to renew its noncommercial educational license, the university answered “no” when asked to certify that public inspection documentation — which includes quarterly issues and programs lists — were in place. Bryant said that upon review of its public file contents, a few items were noted as missing, including a copy of the 2011 biennial ownership report, the current contour map and a number of issues/program lists.

The university had taken steps to recreate the missing lists, Bryant told the FCC, but to no avail. “[T]wo students were hired the summer of 2012 to prepare the missing lists, and the lists were prepared, [but] the university’s attempts to locate these lists have not been successful,” it wrote to the Media Bureau.

It may never be known where the files have gone — stuck in the pages of a chemistry lab book or shoved under a dorm room desk — but what is clear is that the FCC takes public inspection file requirements seriously. The Media Bureau found that Bryant’s actions were willfully and repeatedly negligent in that it had failed to place 20 issues and programs lists in its public file over a six-year period.

“In this regard, where such lapses occur, neither the negligent acts or omissions of station employees or agents, nor the subsequent remedial actions undertaken by the licensee, excuse or nullify a licensee’s rule violation,” the bureau wrote in its order released April 20.

The bureau handed down a $10,000 fine, the commission’s base penalty for this type of violation, but tacked on an additional $2,000 because Bryant only admitted its violation during the application process, because the violations were “extensive” and because the public file is still incomplete and the licensee has been unable to re-create the missing items.

The bureau also moved to sanction the licensee because its conduct “has fallen far short of the standard of compliance with the [Communications] Act and the FCC’s rules that would warrant a routine license renewal,” the bureau said.The licensee’s violations are serious, the bureau said; they denied both the public and the commission any opportunity to review and comment on the station’s programming during the past license term.

As a result, the bureau concluded that a short-term license renewal is warranted. Instead of eight years, WJMF’s new license term will be limited to four, after which the commission will review the station’s compliance.

Bryant University has 30 days to file a written response or pay the fine.