Main Studio Forfeiture Proceeding Raises Question About Rule

Posted on November 5th, 2013 by

A recent proceeding involving a main studio staffing violation raised an issue that bears noting.  The station involved had repeatedly not had any personnel at the main studio during FCC inspections, which led to a proposed forfeiture from the FCC for failure to maintain adequate staffing.

 In response, the station claimed that the FCC did not have the authority to assess a forfeiture because main studio staffing requirements have never been adopted in a rulemaking proceeding, and do not appear in the main studio rule.  It’s a good argument, but one that the FCC dodged here with this explanation.  In 1988, as part of a rulemaking addressing main studio issues, the FCC clarified that broadcast station main studios must “maintain a meaningful management and staff presence.” Then, in subsequent decisions, the FCC says it provided “further guidance” by defining “meaningful presence” as full- time managerial and full-time staff personnel.  According to the FCC, that guidance was an exercise of its authority to interpret its rules without being subject to the rulemaking requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act.  And with that, the FCC rejected the station’s argument.  So that’s how interpretations become rules, and violations of those interpretations lead to monetary forfeitures (or what we call “fines”). 

 The only good news for this station was that the FCC agreed to reduce the original $10,000 fine to $1,500 based on the station’s demonstrated inability to pay.