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March 7, 2011

In our continuing series regarding FCC fines and how to avoid them, we spoke to communications lawyer John Garziglia of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Washington. Although the FCC says it has not stepped up enforcement of its rules or increased the number of inspections being done, we thought it would be a good idea to provide you with as much information as possible to keep you clean and fine free. In today's report, Garziglia provides stations with some great tips on how to avoid being fined.

What is the easiest way to avoid any and all FCC fines?

JG: Many stations, to routinely avoid FCC problems, have one station staff person appointed as the person who tracks FCC requirements and serves as the point person to insure FCC compliance.  or instance, this person will be the person who must be notified whenever a job vacancy occurs at the station and it is this person who confirms that those who are doing the hiring are following the FCC's EEO requirements of wide outreach and documentation that are inherent in the FCC's EEO requirements. It is this same person who confirms that issues/programs lists are prepared and put into the local public file for the preceding quarter each January 10th, April 10th, July 10th and October 10th, and compiles and puts into the local public file the annual EEO public file report. 

Likewise, this person insures that the Chief Engineer is signing off on the station's logs on a weekly basis, keeps a record of all authorizations and any expiration dates, insures that station contests are complete with rules that meet FCC standards and when necessary, calls the station's communications law attorney for advice and review of FCC issues that may arise such as political broadcasting questions, EEO compliance questions, and on-air content issues. Having one person responsible to the station management for an overview of FCC rule compliance goes a long way to avoiding FCC fines.

What does the commission go after first?
After anything safety related such as tower lights being out without the FAA being notified and EAS non-compliance, the FCC next appears to focus most on EEO and local public file issue such as up-to-date issues/programs lists.

Specificaly, what should stations make sure they have in their public file?
For local public file rule compliance, available at are convenient one-page local public file checklists for each state (different states have different due dates for certain things in the local public file) that can be used by station personnel to periodically audit the contents of a broadcast station's local public file.  Some of the things on the checklist are rather obtuse such as the requirement that the FCC's publication "The Public and Broadcasting" be included in the local public file and sent on request to someone requesting it but once the person who is made responsible for the checklist goes through it, that person will know what that document is, as well as the other documents that are to be in each broadcast station's local public file.  It is a "one page" checklist so as to make the task not seem too daunting. The checklist gives the person responsible for public file compliance a good guide to the FCC's local public file rules and compliance, along with references to the specific sections of the FCC's rules for each document required to be in the local public file.

How does a station know if a photo is copyright protected with everything that is shared these days?
The nature of copyright law is that, as a general matter, everything on the web should be presumed to have an enforceable copyright and therefore should not be used by another without permission or a license to do so.  There are exceptions, but as a general rule no photo should be taken from the web and used without permission.  In addition to copyright issues which can be very expensive to resolve, if the photo is of a person there are issues in using the likeness of a person without that person's consent in furtherance of a commercial venture as well as other possible issues.

How in the world can anyone get fined for not renewing a license?
The FCC routinely fines broadcast stations for failing to timely file a license renewal application.  In previous license renewal cycles, the FCC did not send out notifications to stations that licenses were set to expire. Rather, the FCC expects broadcast stations to be aware of the terms of their licenses and to timely file license renewal applications without a reminder. With radio licenses starting to expire in the current cycle this year, and license renewal applications due for stations in Maryland, Virginia, DC and West Virginia this June 1, 2011, it is important for each broadcast station to ascertain when a license renewal application will be due.

John can be reached via e-mail at

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