One of the things that every radio DJ learns during training is the importance of a station’s “public file.”
Every FCC-licensed broadcast station in the United States is required to maintain a public inspection file, containing a number of items including documents pertaining to a station’s license and ownership.
The file should also house FCC complaints, a political file (with details on requests for purchase of airtime by political candidates, etc.), letters and emails from the public (only required of commercial stations), the manual “The Public and Broadcasting,” an issues/programs list related to public service programming, a list of donors, and a number of other items required by the FCC.
If a member of the public enters a radio or TV station requesting to see a station’s public file, they are supposed to be granted access to those documents. Part of the rationale for this is to ensure that stations are serving the public interest.
Unfortunately, some stations (and station staffs) are unclear on the rules regarding public files; so have been hit with hefty fines when they did not comply with public requests.
In the most recent incident, Gaston College radio station WSGE in Dallas, North Carolina was levied a fine of $8,000 by the FCC for “willfully and repeatedly violating Section 73.3527 of the Commission’s rules relating to a noncommercial licensee’s obligation to properly maintain and make available a public inspection file.”
According to the FCC’s forfeiture order (dated January 29, 2010), a member of the public was refused access to the radio station’s public file during regular business hours and was told to make an appointment with the station’s attorney. Upon return to the station, he was eventually given access to the file and complained to the FCC that certain items were either missing or incomplete.
What’s interesting (and alarming) about this case is the station’s allegation that the individual who came to the station requesting access to the file was from a religious institution with a vested interest in trying to get the Gaston College station kicked off the air. According to the FCC’s Forfeiture Order:
“Gaston College characterized the Complainant’s behavior during the first visit as ‘hostile,’ and asked the Bureau to view the Complaint in the context of its past dealings with the Complainant’s employer, Columbia Bible College.
In this regard, Gaston College contended that Columbia Bible College has been engaged in a ‘pattern of harassment and intimidation’ by pursuing FCC proceedings against Gaston College, and that Columbia Bible College’s actions, through the Complainant, are motivated by its prior unsuccessful efforts to acquire the Station. Gaston College alleged that Columbia Bible College is attempting to misuse the Commission’s processes to force the licensee to sell the Station.”
This is enough to send chills up the spine of every college radio station staffer and is a good reminder for stations to get their files in order and instruct all station staff on procedures in regard to requests from the public to view the public file.
At the same time, it’s disturbing to think that there are groups out there who are focused on filing complaints with the FCC in order to get stations kicked off the air.
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