Friday, January 15, 2021

FCC Upholds $233K Forfeiture Order Against Cumulus Media

The Federal Communications Commission has issued a forfeiture order for a  $233,000 fine against four Cumulus Media subsidiaries for violations of the FCC’s sponsorship identification rules, and for apparently failing to promptly self-report some of these violations to the FCC despite its agreement to do so under a prior Consent Decree with the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau.

The FCC’s action Thursday is based on the agency’s longstanding goals of protecting consumers by ensuring that they know who is attempting to persuade them, and of protecting broadcasters and sponsors from unfair competitors that fail to abide by the FCC’s sponsorship disclosure rules. When a broadcast licensee fails to disclose the sponsor of paid programming, it might mislead the public into believing that the paid broadcast material is a station’s independently generated news or editorial content. In addition, this action advances the Commission’s commitment to ensure that parties fully comply with consent decrees and other FCC orders.

In 2011, a Cumulus subsidiary failed to adequately identify the sponsor of announcements broadcast on its New Hampshire radio station WOKQ in Dover. As a result, in 2016 Cumulus entered into a Consent Decree with the Enforcement Bureau in which, among other things, Cumulus agreed to pay a civil penalty, enter into a compliance plan, and report any noncompliance with the sponsorship identification. 

The FCC stated that 26 additional violations were then made after the original penalty including 13 that were not timely reported to the FCC as required. After the $233,000 fine was proposed in August 2019, Cumulus sought a reduction or removal of the fine but did not contest the violations.

Cumulus had argued that its overall record of rule compliance is “as good as or better than any other large broadcaster in the industry,” that it has a “stellar” reputation, that management has focused on adherence to FCC rules, and that out of approximately 135 million ads during the three-year period covered by the consent decree, there were only two occasions of sponsorship ID noncompliance.

The commission dismissed those arguments, saying, among other things, that it doesn’t take a company’s overall size into account as a mitigating factor. “To the contrary, if a corporate entity chooses to acquire many stations, it must ensure that it scales up its compliance efforts accordingly.”

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