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Renew Now to Avoid Children’s Television Fines

No, the FCC has not instituted an early-filing program so licensees can get that pesky license renewal out of the way. Instead, in 2010 it cleaned up television license renewal applications that had been hanging around since the last renewal cycle, issuing nearly $350,000.00 in children’s television fines to some 20 licensees. So, like the year-end EEO self-assessment we recently reminded stations to undertake here, today we tee up a kidvid requirement that stations often overlook, but which the FCC does not.

The FCC’s rules require that television stations “publicize in an appropriate manner the existence and location of” their quarterly Children’s Television Programming Reports on FCC Form 398. While the FCC’s rules do not actually say that stations must publicize the existence of the reports on-air, the FCC’s staff has advised since the rule was adopted that some on-air announcements must be made to fulfill this “publicizing” obligation. The FCC’s enforcement actions bear out this admonition.

When confronted by the FCC, some broadcasters have argued that they fulfilled the “publicizing” obligation by placing the reports themselves on their website. Others have argued that they aired announcements publicizing the existence of their public inspection file (which contained the reports). None of these broadcasters liked the outcome of their encounters with the FCC. The FCC rejected the suggestion that posting the reports is an adequate substitute for publicizing their existence in the first instance or that advertising the location of the public inspection file is adequate to inform viewers that the Children’s Television Programming Reports will be found there. It is only where the broadcaster changed its practice and began airing announcements publicizing both the existence and location of the public file and noting that the Children’s Television Programming Reports are located in it that the FCC was satisfied.

So why is now a particularly good time to think about this? Many television broadcasters schedule a year-long contract in their traffic system as a mechanism for ensuring that announcements about the existence and location of the Children’s Television Programming Reports are regularly aired. However, as reflected in the FCC’s enforcement actions, many stations forget to “renew” those contracts at the beginning of a new year, or fail to reinstate the contracts after installing new traffic equipment. Also, stations sometimes overlook educating new employees about the requirement, which increases the likelihood that reinstatement of the spot schedule for the next year will be missed.

The problem is then compounded when stations continue to certify in their quarterly Children’s Television Programming Reports that they are airing the announcements when they are not. The result is that at license renewal time, stations discover too late that they failed to air the announcements for a considerable period of time, and falsely certified to the FCC that they had complied with the requirement.

Fines of $10,000.00 and even $20,000.00 have been levied for this violation. To avoid a similar fate, stations should take the time now to verify that they have renewed the spot schedule in their traffic systems, and are running the required announcements, with the required content, on a regular schedule. Renew that annual contract. You’ll be glad you did at license renewal time.