Oh, That Online Public File

Posted on August 1st, 2013 by

In 2011, the FCC carefully stated its position on the new TV online public file, assuring broadcasters that the public file would not become a proxy for running up the FCC’s cash registers by using the online public file to issue fines to stations.  Here is their quoted language:

“As with paper public files, the Commission staff would not review the material placed in each station’s online public file for purposes of determining compliance with Commission rules on a routine basis.  Thus, the purpose of the online hosting would simply be to provide the public with read access to the material.”

Not so fast.  In connection with a TV station’s renewal application, the FCC fined a station $9,000 for 18 late-filed quarterly children’s television reports, 17 of which the licensee admitted to filing late, but one that the Commission noticed on its own.  For that one, the decision plainly reads that, “a Commission review of the Station’s online public file showed that the report for the first quarter of 2013 was also filed late.”

Just between us, we can tell you that the FCC staff has earlier taken the “missing from the online public file” approach with us verbally as we have addressed various license renewal issues with them by telephone.  They are now openly acknowledging that they are reviewing the online public file, and will issue fines for violations.  That’s a lot different from the days when something placed in the public file late was undetectable absent an investigation.  Everyone can at least breathe a sigh of relief that this wasn’t simply a random check of the file and issuance of a fine.  It only came up in the context of an admitted violation, which had the FCC on the prowl.  Nevertheless, all full power and Class- A television stations should take note at the power (and truth serum) that the online public file provides to the FCC.