Bleep! Censoring Rock and Rap Music

By Betty Houchin Winfield; Sandra Davidson | Go to book overview

APPENDIX: FCC PROCEDURE IN HANDING OUT FINES
If a group wants to "clean the air," here is the typical process it follows, along with the FCC's procedure and the radio stations' recourse:
1. The FCC's "Mass Media Bureau" handles complaints and ultimately issues fines.1 A complaint filed by a listener with the FCC is directed to the enforcement division's investigations branch. The complaint lands on the desk of an investigator at the FCC annex at 2025 M Street in Washington, D.C.2
2. The investigator makes the first cut, deciding which complaints are meritless and which deserve further attention. Substantiating material (tapes, transcripts) are imperative.3 Because the FCC receives so many thousands of complaints, it can only process the relatively few accompanied by substantiating tapes or transcripts.4 For instance, in the sixmonth period prior to March 1992, the FCC received 53 substantiated complaints.5
3. An attorney for the investigations branch reviews the investigator's determination on the complaint.
4. The determination on the complaint is forwarded to an assistant chief of the Mass Media Bureau for review by that assistant chief and one of the General Counsel's deputies.6
5. The determination on the complaint is presented at a regular monthly meeting of aides of the commissioners.
6. The final determination is made by the commissioners, who are counseled by their aides. The process to this point takes almost one year.
7. A letter or notice is issued with signatures by the Mass Media Bureau.7 Usually, a "letter of inquiry" is the first step.8 The Mass Media Bureau usually waits for a response by the station before proceeding to the forfeiture (fine) stage, thus avoiding a "verdict first, trial later" procedure.9
8. The next step is a "notice of apparent liability for forfeitures" (NAL) issued by the Mass Media Bureau.
9. The final step by the Mass Media Bureau is a "notice of forfeiture," or fine.10
10. After receiving a notice of forfeiture, a station has 30 days to respond.11
11. A station may not appeal the fine to the U.S. Court of Appeals because the Communications Act does not provide for appeal of the fine.12 A station may ask for reconsideration of the fine, but the Mass Media Bureau does not have to reconsider the fine. (For instance, Evergreen's request for reconsideration was denied).13 The station's only recourse is to pay the fine -- or refuse to pay the fine.14 (NOTE: Broadcast stations can appeal actions other than fines to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.15)
12. If a station refuses to pay a fine, then the FCC can refer the matter to the Justice Department, which has to take the station to court.16 The Justice Department sues in the district court where the station legally resides.

-66-

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