FCC Proposes $233,000 Fine Against Cumulus For Sponsorship Identification Violations

Cumulus Media 2018 Mary BernerThe FCC has proposed a $233,000 fine against Cumulus Media over multiple violations of sponsorship identification rules.

Cumulus had entered into a Consent Decree in 2016 to pay a $540,000 a civil penalty, enter into a compliance plan, and report any noncompliance with the sponsorship identification rules within 15 calendar days after discovery of such noncompliance for violations at 97.5 WOKQ Dover NH related to not identifying the sponsor of announcements. The new fine claims that in 2017 and 2018 seven Cumulus stations failed in twenty six instances to air such identifications and waited eight months to notify the FCC as required under the Consent Decree.

Six Michigan stations, WTKA and WWW Ann Arbor, WFBE and WTRX Flint, WDRQ and WDVD Detroit aired a non-complaint ad by Relevant Sports LLC over thirteen times on May 16, 2017 and were not reported to the FCC until January 2018. WMAC Macon GA ran a non-compliant spot for a gubernatorial candidate in May 2018.

In a letter noting his dissent of the fine proposed, FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks believes the $25,000 portion of the fine levied for violating the Consent Decree is not in line with FCC procedure and is too low, “The $25,000 proposed forfeiture for the consent decree violation does not follow well-established Commission precedent and is not, in my mind, commensurate with the misconduct and violations at issue.

From my time in the Enforcement Bureau, I know that these actions are significant and will not go unnoticed by savvy lawyers, who will undoubtedly refer to this case in future investigations. I fear that the Commission’s action here will make it more difficult for us to impose significant penalties for consent decree violations in the future and will signal to industry that we do not take noncompliance seriously. This will undermine the deterrent effect of our enforcement actions and make it more difficult for the Enforcement Bureau to prosecute its important mission. For these reasons, I dissent.”

The Federal Communications Commission today proposed a $233,000 fine against four Cumulus Media subsidiaries for apparent 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 today advances 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. 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 rules within 15 calendar days after discovery of such
noncompliance.

In today’s action, the FCC finds that in 2017 and 2018, seven of Cumulus’ radio stations apparently failed, in twenty-six instances, to air appropriate sponsorship identifications as required by FCC rules. In addition, Cumulus waited nearly eight months before reporting certain of these violations to the Bureau, in violation of its commitments in the 2016 Consent Decree.

The proposed action, formally called a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture, or NAL, contains only allegations that advise a party on how it has apparently violated the law and may set forth a proposed monetary penalty. The Commission may not impose a greater monetary penalty in this case than the amount proposed in the NAL. Neither the allegations nor the proposed sanctions in the NAL are final Commission actions. The party will be given an opportunity to respond, and the Commission will consider the party’s submission of evidence and legal arguments before acting further to resolve the matter.

The Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture is available here:
https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-19-70A1.pdf

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