In a previous eCast, we strongly urged member stations to be proactive in auditing their Online Public Inspection File. Especially given the fact that the Commission was being somewhat benevolent and patient as stations continued to procrastinate with compliance. Dick Zaragoza, General Counsel of NASBA, issued the following strong recommendation earlier this week:
Every radio and television station should take immediate and adequate steps to (i) conduct a compliance review of their online public inspection file (“OPIF”) using the assistance of their communications counsel, an inspector under the State Association’s ABIP Program, or some other third-party who is knowledgeable about the Commission’s OPIF requirements, (ii) come into full, compliance with those requirements; and (iii) establish an OPIF review/compliance program to ensure that the station timely complies with the OPIF requirements going forward.
The risks of noncompliance with the OPIF rule are multiple. A noncompliant station could be required to pay a fine in the $10,000 range. Furthermore, a noncompliant station could face a Commission initiated, or a petition to deny initiated, designation of the station’s licenses for evidentiary renewal hearing based on either a Bureau investigation, or a third-party organization complaint or petition to deny, alleging that the station’s OPIF was deficient (as remotely monitored by the FCC or a third-party) and contending that the station lacked the requisite qualifications to remain a licensee because it engaged in misrepresentation or lack of candor when it “certified” in its renewal application that its OPIF was complete and that all required materials were timely placed in its OPIF, even though its OPIF was, at least at a point time and/or remains deficient. The absence of the required quarterly issues programs lists from an OPIF could also raise the separate question whether the station operated in the public interest during the license term, thereby also justifying a renewal of license hearing.
The beginning of the multi-year cycle for the filing of applications for renewal of license is only months away. We know how easy it is for anyone to monitor a station’s OPIF at any time from any location. We also know how easy it is to document when required materials are absent from a particular station’s OPIF at a point in time. For these reasons, all radio and television stations should treat the Commission’s recent increase in OPIF compliance education/enforcement efforts and email warnings about FCC monitoring of OPIF deficiencies sent to individual stations, as a genuine
broadcast industry, regulatory emergency alert.
Should you have any questions about OPIF compliance, please do not hesitate to reach out to one of the following: