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$1,200 Civil Penalty for College Radio Station WMEB for Public File Violations

University of Maine, Orono’s student-run college radio station WMEB-FM is being asked to pay a $1,200 penalty to the United States Treasury because of long-standing public file violations. According to a Consent Decree released today by the FCC, in the course of WMEB’s license renewal, it was reveled that “quarterly issues and programs lists were not prepared for the Station’s public file from July 2007 to July 2013.”

Because this was a first-time violation by a student-run station, the FCC opted to negotiate a Consent Decree, with a more lenient penalty. This is in keeping with the FCC’s current stance on college radio violations, following a 2013 order related to violations at William Penn University. This is also on the heels of last week’s news about a Consent Decree with Castleton College’s student radio station WIUV-FM (also for public file violations related to missing issues and programs lists).

As part of the agreement, WMEB’s license will only be renewed for a term of 4 years and the station must implement a compliance plan as well as staff training in order to prevent future public file violations. Specifically, WMEB must “…log all broadcasts of public affairs and public service programming broadcast by the Station. The logs of public affairs and other public service programming will be compiled into quarterly issues/programs lists and will be timely placed in the public file of the Station.”

Additionally, WMEB management agrees that it “…will train all Station staff concerning the requirement to follow Commission rules, regulations, and policies, specifically, fully explaining the obligations imposed by the Public File Rule to each staffer charged with maintenance of the Station’s public file. Should the Licensee or the Station’s management learn that the Public File Rule has been violated, any staffer responsible will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action, including being removed from any duties relating to the public file.”

The compliance plan also calls for regular audits of WMEB’s public file by a representative of the Maine Association of Broadcasters, by station management, and by the station’s engineer “with advice and guidance from the Licensee’s FCC counsel, as needed.”

Since the maintenance of quarterly issues and programs lists is often a challenge for many college radio stations, it seems like this approach is a good model for other stations to follow. The problem often is that with ever-changing staffs, responsibility for the public file gets lost in the shuffle. However, if someone is assigned the weekly task of compiling lists of public affairs programming, then preparing quarterly summaries should be much easier and less daunting. The thing to keep in mind, though, is that the importance of maintaining oversight over the public file also needs to be communicated to the radio station staff every year, so that it doesn’t fall by the wayside after station leaders graduate.

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