California noncom fine for advertising sticks


MoneyThe Cesar Chavez Foundation’s KUFW-FM Woodlake CA took a quartet of underwriting announcements over the line into the realm of advertising back in 2006, and the FCC is sticking with the fine it levied for the transgression.

There were four separate announcements, but they ran some 2,000 times between March and December of 2006. The result was an FCC fine of $12.5K.

In this instance, CCF did not dispute the fact that its announcements veered into commercial zone; rather, it stated its good faith efforts to operate within the rules, and cited an earlier case involving Xavier University which it claimed paralleled its own.

The FCC disagreed – it noted that underwriting announcements are allowed to identify benefactors of the station, but they cannot go beyond that. “Specifically, such advertisements may not contain comparative or qualitative descriptions, price information, calls to action, or inducements to buy, sell, rent, or lease,” explained the Commission.

The FCC acknowledged the presence of a gray area. “Consequently,” it said, “the Commission expects that licensees exercise reasonable ‘good faith’ judgment in this area, and affords some latitude to the judgments of licensees who do so.”

The FCC noted that in the Xavier case, the licensee and FCC had differing opinions as to whether or not announcements went over the line and the FCC used its discretion to Xavier’s benefit. It said there was no such possibility of disagreement this time – the announcements clearly went too far. It cited phrases used, such as “beautiful Harley Davidson light trucks,” “we have it here,” and “whatever vehicle with no down payment.”

The FCC cited a few more phrases from a tire merchant – including this one: “we don’t give you a cat for a rabbit here.”

CCF said that none of the announcements included a call to action, and the FCC countered that a call to action is not the only impermissible type of message, and didn’t let it off the hook for the impermissible language that was put on the air.

The fine stands.

RBR-TVBR observation: Any regulation that pertains in any way to language creates a gray area – that is one of the big problems with indecency enforcement – but a reasonably careful noncom should easily be able to keep the gray out of its underwriting copy.