Paying the Piper: Avoiding Payola/Plugola Violations and Minimizing Liability
The volatile combination of broadcast employees concerned about their income and job security, and cash-strapped businesses looking for cheap and effective ways to promote themselves in difficult economic times, creates an unusually fertile ground for payola and plugola violations. Complicating matters are state efforts to prohibit “payola” activities that are legal under federal payola law. Even being accused of payola can be devastating to a broadcaster, and stations must be extremely diligent in uncovering and preventing payola and plugola violations.
Payola is the undisclosed acceptance of, or agreement to accept, anything of value in return for on-air promotion of a product or service. It is forbidden by Sections 317 and 507 of the Communications Act of 1934, and by Sections 73.1212 (broadcast) and 76.1615 (cable) of the FCC’s Rules. Its sibling, Plugola, occurs when someone responsible for program selection promotes on-air a venture in which he or she has a financial interest without disclosing that interest to the station licensee and to the public. A payola or plugola violation by an employee usually results in the employer violating the FCC’s sponsorship identification rule as well.