FCC 375

A week after the Federal Communications Commissions closed outstanding investigations with six of the largest group owners over missing political advertising documents from their online public files, it has settled with four more companies. This time the FCC investigations centered on four small companies that owned a total of 19 stations combined.

The FCC has signed consent decrees with Center Hill Broadcasting, Cookeville Communications, North Shore Broadcasting, and W & V Broadcasting. Each disclosed the failure to comply with the rules in their license renewal applications. Under the terms of the agreements, each broadcaster admits they failed to meet the public inspection file requirements. Each also agrees to create a compliance plan, draft a manual to distribute to employees, and step up training to ensure similar mistakes aren’t made in the future. Each will also appoint a compliance officer to oversee the political file recordkeeping. The companies also agree to file compliance reports with the Media Bureau every six months through November 2021.

No monetary fines were issued against any of the four broadcasters. The Media Bureau said that it acknowledged the “dramatic reduction in advertising revenue” that broadcasters have faced from the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent “significant financial stress” it has placed on stations.

In a series of orders adopted on Thursday, Media Bureau Chief Michelle Carey points out that the FCC has had rules on the books requiring stations to maintain public files documenting requests for political advertising time for more than 80 years. That includes information about each request for the purchase of broadcast time that is made by or on behalf of a legally qualified candidate for public office or by an issue advertiser whose ad communicates a message relating to a political matter of national importance. The FCC’s rules require stations to upload that information to their online political file “as soon as possible.” Carey said that information is crucial during an election because, among other things, it is used by opposing candidates to request equal opportunities.

The agreements mean that each of the companies will now be able to have various pending applications with the FCC move forward after the political file investigation threw up a roadblock to their processing. That includes their pending license renewal applications.

Last week the FCC announced a series of similar agreements with Alpha Media, Beasley Media Group, Cumulus Media, Entercom, iHeartMedia and Salem Media Group. They too were found to have not lived up to the requirement that information about political advertising be placed in their online public inspection files.