Originally posted on the Broadcast Law Blog.
Today, the FCC entered into a consent decree with a San Diego Television station, agreeing to an $18,000 "voluntary contribution" to the US Treasury to settle a complaint against the station for its alleged failure to provide a visual presentation of emergency information to persons with hearing disabilities during local wildfires in October 2003. The FCC rules require TV stations to provide a visual presentation of emergency information that is being aurally provided, for the benefit of hearing impaired viewers. The presentation can be closed captioning, or presented through any other visual means that conveys to the hearing impaired important details about a current emergency and how to deal with it. We wrote about this issue last summer, when the FCC released a public notice setting out details of licensees' responsibilities in this area.
The consent decree also required that the licensee provide closed captioning and other accommodations, including newsroom reminders to contact captioning service during emergencies, a telephone speed-dial button to the captioning service, and distribution of the visual presentation policy to employees every six months. This is the most recent example of the FCC's continued reliance on enforcement by consent decree. Consent decrees conserve Commission resources and enforce FCC policy on a going-forward basis rather than merely issuing fines or forfeitures for past behavior. Also, a licensee does not admit liability. However, such decrees allow the Commission to impose penalties far in excess of those required by the rules. For instance, in this case, the agreement to provide a speed dial number and closed captioning of on-the-spot news goes beyond any requirement of the rules. We recently wrote about the use of consent decrees in connection with huge penalties imposed in connection with payola enforcement and children's television rule violations.