When an Employee Quits and Takes Items from the Public File

Posted on July 9th, 2013 by

In most cases when items are missing from a station’s public file, the FCC only has sympathy when a natural disaster or some equally momentous circumstance has caused their loss. We’ve even seen a situation where even the death of a former employee that exclusively prepared public file items did not warrant any leniency from the FCC when items were later found to be missing from the file.

The circumstances of a recent case were apparently enough for the FCC to have some “heart” when a licensee self-reported 20 missing quarterly issues/program lists in its renewal application. The licensee’s explanation? The general manager of 32 years had walked out of the station “never to return”, took all of the issues/program lists with him, but later offered to “supply them back to the station for $100,000.” The station apparently decided not to take up the former GM on his offer. Financially, that decision turned out to be a good one.

The normal fine for missing quarterly issues/programs lists is $10,000, subject to upward adjustment when multiple lists are missing. But based on the “less-than-amicable departure” of the GM and taking into consideration the unique facts, the FCC decided to reduce the proposed forfeiture to $1,000.

When a licensee’s employee is the source of an FCC rule violation, the FCC typically fines the licensee anyway because the licensee is ultimately responsible for its employees.  Without saying so here, the FCC followed that logic, but made the penalty less.

Stations might consider having some redundancy or protection for the public file, either with back-up scans of materials on paper, or a regular back up of computer files for public file documents that are stored electronically.