FCC and Enforcement Issues
What is the role of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau?: The Commission has broad enforcement powers over a variety of broadcast activities which consist of the following:
- Admonishment: When a broadcast station is admonished it is warned that its action or inaction will be subject to greater punishment if it is repeated.
- Cease and Desist Order: The Commission has the statutory right to issue such orders against any person or entity who fails to comply with the terms of its license, fails to observe the Commission’s rules and policies or violated the criminal laws forbidding fraud, lotteries or obscenity.
- Forfeiture: Fines are imposed on licensees where the punishment of revocation would be too severe. Fines may be assessed up to $37,500 for each violation or each day of a continuing violation and up to a maximum of $375,000 for any continuing violation of any single act or failure to act. The maximum forfeiture for obscene, indecent or profane broadcasts may not exceed $325,000 for each violation or each day of a continuing violation and the amount assessed for a continuing violation may not exceed $3,000,000.
- Hearing Designation Order: The Commission can designate a station’s application for hearing. Such a hearing could result in anything from an admonishment to a revocation.
- Revocation: The most severe punishment that the Commission can take is to revoke a station’s license. Before the Commission will revoke a station’s license, it will issue an order for the licensee to “show cause” why an order of revocation should not be issued. The burden of proof is on the Commission in such hearings.
- Indecency Enforcement:
It is a violation of federal law to air “obscene” programming at any time. It is also a violation of federal law to air “indecent” programming or “profane language” during certain hours (indecent or profane speech that is broadcast between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. is not actionable). Congress has given the FCC the responsibility for administratively enforcing these laws. The FCC may revoke a station license, impose a monetary forfeiture or issue a warning if a station airs obscene, indecent or profane material. Obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and may not be broadcast at any time. The Supreme Court has established that, to be obscene, material must meet a three-pronged test: (1) An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; (2) the material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and (3) the material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
The FCC has defined broadcast indecency as “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.” Indecent programming contains patently offensive sexual or excretory material that does not rise to the level of obscenity. Enforcement actions in this area are based on documented complaints received from the public about obscene, indecent or profane material. FCC staff will review each complaint to determine whether it contains sufficient information to suggest that there has been a violation of the obscenity, indecency or profanity laws. If it appears that a violation may have occurred, the staff will start an investigation, which may include a letter of inquiry to the broadcast station.
Is it necessary for a radio station to mention all of its "affiliates" every hour. It is very tedious to have to listen to four...five...six stations identified every hour. Can a station announce one, possibly two stations, and then direct listeners to a website for the rest? Is that possible/legal? Or, is their a way to cut down on this tedious annoyance?: If the “affiliate” stations are full power broadcast stations, yes, they should be ID’d every hour. If they’re translators, they only need to be ID’d three times a day as specified in 47CFR74.
So, if they have call letters like KAAA or KAAA-FM, they’re full power 47CFR73 broadcast stations, and they have to be ID’d. if they have call signs like K265LG then they’re translators requiring only three ID’s a day.
Of course, the audio stream could be broken at ID time so that a separate ID is transmitted by each station, but that’s rarely done due to the complexity of the switching. Also, most Public Broadcast operators want to point out how vast their coverage area is. . .