Posted December 29, 2014
By Scott R. Flick and Jessica Nyman
Pillsbury's communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since 1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month's issue includes:
- Sponsorship Identification Violation Yields $115,000 Civil Penalty
- $13,000 Increase in Fine Upheld for Deliberate and Continued Operation at Unauthorized Location
- FCC Reduces $14,000 Fine for EAS and Power Violations Due to Inability to Pay
FCC Adopts Consent Decree Requiring Licensee to Pay $115,000 Civil Penalty
Earlier this month, the FCC's Enforcement Bureau entered into a Consent Decree with a Nevada TV station terminating an investigation into violations of the FCC's sponsorship identification rule.
The FCC's sponsorship identification rule requires broadcast stations to identify the sponsor of content aired whenever any "money, service, or other valuable consideration" is paid or promised to the station for the broadcast. The FCC has explained that the rule is rooted in the idea that the broadcast audience is "entitled to know who seeks to persuade them."
In 2009, the FCC received a complaint alleging that an advertising agency in Las Vegas offered to buy air time for commercials if broadcast stations aired news-like programming about automobile liquidation sales events at dealerships. The FCC investigated the complaint and found that the licensee's TV station accepted payment to air "Special Reports" about the liquidation sales. The "Special Reports" resembled news reports, and featured a station employee playing the role of a television reporter questioning representatives of the dealership about their ongoing sales event.
The licensee acknowledged the applicability of the sponsorship identification rule to the "Special Reports," but asserted that the context made clear their nature as paid advertisements despite the absence of an explicit announcement. The FCC disagreed, contending that the licensee failed to air required sponsorship announcements for twenty-seven "Special Reports" broadcast by the station from May through August of 2009.
As part of the Consent Decree, the licensee admitted to violating the FCC's sponsorship identification rule and agreed to (i) pay a civil penalty of $115,000; (ii) develop and implement a Compliance Plan to prevent future violations; and (iii) file Compliance Reports with the FCC annually for the next three years.
FCC Finds That Corrective Actions and Staffing Problems Do Not Merit Reduction of Fine
The FCC imposed a $25,000 fine against a Colorado radio licensee for operating three studio-transmitter links ("STL") from a location not authorized by their respective FCC licenses.
Section 301 of the Communications Act prohibits the use or operation of any apparatus for the transmission of communications signals by radio, except in accordance with the Act and with a license from the FCC. In addition, Section 1.903(a) of the FCC's Rules requires that stations in the Wireless Radio Services be operated in accordance with the rules applicable to their particular service, and only with a valid FCC authorization.
In August 2012, an agent from the Enforcement Bureau's Denver Office inspected the STL facilities and found they were operating from a location approximately 0.6 miles from their authorized location. The agent concluded--and the licensee did not dispute-- that the STL facilities had been operating at the unauthorized location for five years. A July 2013 follow-up inspection found that the STL facilities continued to operate from the unauthorized location.