If a listener were to visit your station and walk off with some of your public files, is it still your problem?
That was one aspect of a case in which a Michigan commercial broadcaster has been handed a $10,500 fine by the FCC for failing to meet two reporting requirements. It is the most recent development stemming from a notice of apparent liability handed down in 2012.
J & J Broadcasting Inc. was fined for failing to maintain certain items in two of its stations’ public files and for failing to notify the commission of a change in antenna structure ownership. J & J licenses FM station WIMI and AM station WJMS in Ironwood, Mich., a small town near Lake Superior.
Section 73.3526(e)(12) of the FCC Rules require that a station maintain and make available the quarterly issues/programs lists in a public inspection file. According to the commission, the issues/programs lists inform the public of a broadcaster’s treatment of community issues, and maintaining such lists is part of a broadcaster’s obligation to the public. In addition, Section 17.57 requires that a station immediately notify the commission of an ownership change of an antenna structure. The notification is necessary to ensure that structure owners can be quickly contacted in the event of a threat to public safety, according to the FCC.
The Enforcement Bureau visited the stations in September 2011 — following J & J’s purchase of the stations and antenna structure the year prior — and found that five quarterly issues/programs lists were missing from the public inspection file. The commission also said the antenna registration was erroneously listed as belonging to the previous owner. In August 2012, the bureau issued an NAL with a $13,000 fine for violation of the two rules.
J & J did not contest the findings, but did request that the FCC reduce the penalty based on the stations’ history of compliance, financial circumstances and purported efforts to meet regulatory obligations. J & J also reported that the missing quarterly issues/programs lists were the result of a member of the public removing the files, according to the FCC.
The commission was not swayed by the arguments; it found that J & J had not demonstrated significant financial hardship to warrant elimination of the fine, and found that regardless of the actions of a third party, J & J must ensure that public inspection files remain complete.
The commission did agree to reduce the fine to $10,500, a figure that the FCC deemed appropriate given the stations’ history of compliance. Payment is required within 30 calendar days.