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FCC issues significant Quarterly Issues Programs list fines

The FCC’s recent fining of five Cumulus-owned radios stations elsewhere in the U.S. should serve as a warning to broadcasters that the FCC is serious about Quarterly Issues Programs lists.  While the deficiency was found in the stations’ license renewals, the online migration of the station Public Inspection File will make it is easy for the FCC, and public interest groups, to review a station’s status for the required reports.

“The FCC requires each broadcast station to air a reasonable amount of programming responsive to significant community needs, issues, and problems as determined by the station,” said Scott Flick of TAB’s FCC counsel Pilllsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.

“The FCC gives each station the discretion to determine which issues facing the community served by the station are the most significant and how best to respond to them in the station’s overall programming.

“This is demonstrated by maintaining and placing a Quarterly List in the station Public Inspection file that reflects the “station’s most significant programming treatment of community issues during the preceding three-month period.”

Flick said by use of the term “most significant,” the FCC has noted that stations are not required to list all responsive programming, but only that programming which provided the most significant treatment of the issues identified.  The Pillsbury law firm, prepares an advisory each quarter covering the Quarterly Issues Programs lists. This insightful document covers the content of the lists and suggests a sample format that broadcasters can use to create the document.  Stations can read the most recent advisory from Jan. 10, 2018, here.

In this particular case, all five stations were fined $12,000 each when each admitted in the station license renewal that they were missing some of the Quarterly Issues Programs lists.  Attorney David Oxenford of TAB Associate member law firm Wilkinson Barker Knauer said the FCC’s decision raises several issues that TAB member stations should think about, specifically:

  1. The FCC, though deregulatory, is still aggressively enforcing the rules that it has.
  2. Quarterly Issue Programs lists are important.  In fact, they are the only officially-mandated FCC records documenting how a station has served its community of license.
  3. These quarterly reports become especially important for stations that decide not to maintain a local manned main studio – as they are the documentary evidence of how a station continues to serve its community even without a community presence.
  4. The online public file will make such violations much easier for the FCC and public interest groups to find.
  5. These issues will be coming up again soon for Texas broadcasters –  the next Texas license renewal year is 2021 for radio broadcasters and 2022 for television broadcasters

Click here to read Oxenford’s report on this recent case and discussion on the contents of the Quarterly Issues Programs lists. 

Questions?  Contact TAB's Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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