FCC Enforcement Monitor ~ September 2019
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:
- Faith-Based Station Settles With FCC After Preempting KidVid Programming With Fundraising
- Arizona LPFM Gets License Reinstated in Consent Decree
- Christmas Tree’s Harmful Interference Results in Consent Decree With LED Company
Gotta Have Faith: Washington TV Station That Preempted Children’s Programming With Fundraising Settles With FCC
The FCC recently entered into a Consent Decree with the licensee of a faith-based Washington TV station for inaccurate Children’s Television Programming Reports and for failing to provide a sufficient amount of “core” children’s educational programming.
Pursuant to the Children’s Television Act of 1990, the FCC’s children’s television programming (“KidVid”) rules require TV stations to provide programming that “serve[s] the educational and informational needs of children.” Under the KidVid guidelines in place at the time of the alleged violations, stations were expected to air an average of at least three hours per week of “core” educational children’s programming per program stream. To count as “core” programming, the programs had to be regularly-scheduled, at least 30 minutes in length, and broadcast between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10 p.m. A station that aired somewhat less than the averaged three hours per week of core programming could still satisfy its children’s programming obligations by airing other types of programs demonstrating “a level of commitment” to educating children that is “at least equivalent” to airing three hours per week of core programming. The FCC has since acknowledged that this alternative approach resulted in so much uncertainty that stations rarely invoked it.
Stations must file a Children’s Television Programming Report (currently quarterly, soon to be annually) with the FCC demonstrating compliance with these guidelines. The reports are then placed in the station’s online Public Inspection File. Upon a station’s application for license renewal, the Media Bureau reviews these reports to assess the station’s performance over the previous license term. If the Media Bureau determines that the station failed to comply with the KidVid guidelines, it must refer the application to the full Commission for review of the licensee’s compliance with the Children’s Television Act of 1990. As we have previously discussed, the FCC recently made significant changes to its KidVid core programming and reporting obligations, much of it having gone into effect earlier this month.
During its review of the station’s 2014 license renewal application, the Media Bureau noticed shortfalls in the station’s core programming scheduling and inaccuracies in the station’s quarterly KidVid reports over the previous term. It therefore issued a Letter of Inquiry to the station to obtain additional information. In response, the station acknowledged that it had in fact preempted core programming with live fundraising, but asserted that it still met its obligations through other “supplemental” programming, albeit outside of the 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. window for core programming. Inaccuracies in its reports were blamed on “clerical errors.”
The Media Bureau concluded that the station’s supplemental programming did not count toward the station’s core programming requirements. Without getting into the merits of the programming itself, the Media Bureau found the programming insufficient because it was aired outside of the core programming hours. The Media Bureau also concluded that the station had provided inaccurate information on several of the quarterly reports.
In response, the FCC and the station negotiated a Consent Decree under which the station agreed to pay a $30,700 penalty to the U.S. Treasury and implement a three-year compliance plan. In return, the FCC agreed to terminate its investigation and grant the station’s pending 2014 license renewal application upon timely payment of the penalty, assuming the FCC did not subsequently discover any other “impediments” to license renewal.
Radio Reset: LPFM License Reinstated (for Now) in Consent Decree Over Various Licensing and Underwriting Violations
In response to years of ownership, construction, and other problems that culminated in its license being revoked in 2018, the licensee of an Arizona low power FM (“LPFM”) station entered into a Consent Decree with the Media Bureau and the Enforcement Bureau. Continue reading →