In the form of a “POLICY STATEMENT AND ORDER” (“PSO”), the FCC announced a new leniency policy for student run stations. The policy is limited for “first-time violations of certain documentation requirements…”. In the PSO, the FCC states that it will, “first afford the licensee an opportunity to negotiate a consent decree in which the licensee agrees to a compliance plan and makes a voluntary contribution to the United States Treasury. In negotiating the amount of the voluntary contribution, the Bureau will consider the totality of circumstances, including giving appropriate consideration to the station’s finances with respect to reducing the base forfeiture amount significantly.” In other words, the FCC will consider the size of the amount owed by the station’s budget rather then the schools ability to pay, which is a departure from how fines have been assessed in the past. But do not breathe a sigh of relief just yet. The FCC take great pains to stress that this is a policy that is very limited in scope. “We caution the licensees of such stations that the policy only extends to first-time violations of the Rules described.” “Subsequent or repeated violations after that first-time violation, or violations involving Rules that are beyond the scope of this policy, will be addressed in a manner consistent with past precedents.” “we will limit this policy to violations of rules that require the submission of reports and other materials or public notice of information.” More cautions, “We emphasize that substantive operational violations, e.g., broadcast of indecent/obscene/profane material, commercial announcements, illegal contests, underwriting, news distortion and other programming-related violations, violations of the Commission’s technical, public safety, tower/transmitter site construction and maintenance rules, etc., as well as recurring or subsequent violations of any kind, will continue to be handled under current procedures, with no reduction or relief for student-run stations,apart from those potentially available to all licensees under current procedures in appropriate circumstances.”
Perhaps the most important caution is that this policy is only limited to stations entirely run by students, including those with a faculty adviser. “For purposes of this policy, a student-run station is a radio station licensed as an NCE station to an educational institution or an entity under the control of an educational institution and which is staffed completely by student volunteers, rather than partially or predominantly by students. Stations that employ any professional staff, other than a faculty advisor, will not qualify for a consent decree under the policy announced today, even if they meet all the other criteria.”
While this is a good move by the FCC concerning leniency for student operations, it appears to be overly narrow with respect to the types of stations covered and the violations covered. If you consider that an single utterance of material deemed indecent could cost result in a $325,000 fine, it would seem that the very same concerns expressed in the PSO about license sales would apply, not to mention other large sized fines for other violations.