Originally posted on the Broadcast Law Blog.
The FCC has once again proposed a $10,000 fine against a college radio station missing quarterly issues/program lists in the public inspection file. This time, the culprit is Rollins College, a small liberal arts college in Florida with 1700 students.
We know that $10,000 is the "base forfeiture" for failure to maintain a complete public inspection file, and this is not the first time the FCC has proposed this fine for a college radio station. But we have questioned before whether a $10,000 fine is appropriate for this type of violation and the amount seems even more egregious when it is levied against a small noncommercial educational college radio station. It is the same fine that would be levied against a major commercial television network station located in New York City for the same violation.
Yes, rules are rules and they should be followed by all FCC licensed broadcast stations. But as Dave Seyler notes in a thoughtful piece written for Radio Business Report, it may not be in the best interests of the federal government to "siphon money out of our educational system." In this case, as in other similar cases, the college received no warning following an FCC inspection...just the fine.
As we have also previously noted, very few citizens go to radio stations looking to inspect quarterly issues/programs lists. Do we really need a small college radio station to document its coverage of community issues the same way a commercial station would? Would the FCC really consider stripping a small college of its noncommercial license for this type of violation, or is it just another way for the FCC to earn revenues? It sure seems a lot like the latter.
We know the FCC is stretched thin in terms of personnel and resources, and they do the best they can with the resources available. We also know that stations unable to pay FCC fines can present evidence of inability to pay to reduce or cancel proposed fines. But there are legal fees to pay for doing that as well. Accordingly, it does not seem unrealistic to suggest that some rule violations may merit a warning prior to a fine or that noncommercial educational radio stations be treated with a bit more leniency going forward.