RETENTION OF POLITICAL MATERIALS IN THE PUBLIC FILE
Q: Now that the election is over, I want to do some "weeding-out" of the political section of our station's Public File. How long do we have to keep the files and the spots?
A: Documentation. The FCC's Rule, which requires stations to keep documentation regarding political broadcasts, mandates that the material be kept for two years. However, Washington state law requires media entities which accept political advertising keep the same information on file for public inspection for three years following the election to which they pertain. However, any materials which relate to a complaint filed with the FCC or the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), involving the station, must be retained until the matter is resolved.
Spots. There is no FCC or Washington State Rule which requires a station to keep a copy of the script or the tape of a political spot.
Did you know a few years ago the PDC proposed to require stations to keep not only the documentation, but every spot as well for four years? They also proposed to require stations to make facilities available to the general public on demand to review any of the spots on file. WSAB defeated this proposal by educating the PDC staff and members of the Commission about the practical impossibilities of the proposal and testifying in opposition to it at the PDC's hearing on the issue!
Q: How are stations selected for FCC inspections? And, how should we treat an inspector when he or she arrives at the station? What specific objectives does an inspector have during a visit to a station?
A: Stations are randomly selected for FCC inspection. A station will also be inspected if the FCC receives a complaint regarding the station's operations. For instance, unresolved complaints of a station causing interference to public safety communications services, or complaints from pilots concerning a station's tower lighting are both situations that may trigger an inspection.
FCC inspectors do not like to wait for extended periods of time just to get to talk with someone in authority who knows the station's operations. There should always be someone available who can assist an inspector when he or she is performing an inspection. For instance, someone should always be available on short notice who knows where the Public File is located, and where the keys are located for the transmitter site. Basically, station staff should treat the inspector as any guest to the station would be treated.
Usually, the inspector takes an overall "snapshot" of a station's operations. The public file, technical operating parameters, EAS, logs and transmitter site may be reviewed, as well as any areas which were deficient in a previous inspection. Occasionally, an inspector will come to town and just look at, for instance, a station's Public File. Word spreads quickly among local broadcasters that an FCC inspector is in town, which usually results in other stations quickly reviewing their operations (and taking care of any little problems) - an intended objective of the inspector.
Q: Our station recently completed some technical changes. What is our obligation to people who complain about interference?
A: The FCC's Rules 73.88 and 73.318(b), (c) and (d) govern a station's responsibility with regard to "blanketing interference." Generally, the FCC expects that a station will assume full financial responsibility for satisfying all reasonable complaints arising from blanketing interference within one year of a major change in facilities within a "protected area." Protected areas include any area adjacent to the transmitter in which the AM field strength exceeds 1 V/m or in which the FM field strength exceeds 115 dbu (562 mV/m).
After one year, the station must provide information or technical assistance as needed to help resolve blanketing interference problems.
In addition, the FCC has a publication called "The Interference Handbook" which can be obtained by calling the FCC's Consumer Assistance Office at (202) 418-0200.
EXCUSES ACCEPTED BY THE FCC
Q: We've had a few problems at our station in the last year or two and, frankly, some FCC rules have not been observed. What kind of excuses for rule violations will the FCC accept?
A: Not many. Read on: The seller of a Kentucky TV station has been fined $20,000 for failing to maintain a main studio, for failing to maintain a public inspection file, and for failing to regularly broadcast station identification announcements. In response to the FCC's Notice of Apparent Liability, the station admitted that "its operations may not have always been in complete compliance with all Commission rules and policies with regard to main studios." A bit of an understatement: According to the FCC's Order in the case, for a period of nearly two years, the station's main studio was co-located at its transmitter building, which was locked and fenced to prevent entry. In addition, the FCC found that the station’s public inspection file, eventually discovered at a public library, was substantially incomplete for a period of nearly two years. The FCC also found that regular station identification announcements were not made over some unspecified period of time. There was also no local, toll-free telephone number, no employees who worked regular hours and no television production equipment, for a period of nearly two years. Zingo! A $20,000 fine, but the Commission did approve a transfer of control to a new owner.
FCC REPEAT OFFENDERS
Q: If our station has had an FCC fine in the past, could that make it harder on us if we have a violation in the future?
A: Yes, it could. Dick Zaragoza, of the Shaw Pittman law firm in Washington, DC and General Counsel of the Broadcast Executive Directors Association, reports that he has learned, informally, from the Commission that when the regional enforcement officials seek to determine the appropriate forfeiture amount for a given violation, they check the FCC's database to see if the licensee or group owner has committed the same type of rule violation before. If so, they will likely view the new violation as a type of repeat offense for which the licensee should pay more than if the violation were a first-time offense.