An employee of Rejoynetwork’s WAAW-FM in Williston SC interviewed employees of an airport by telephone, and the station broadcast the interviews without notifying them that this was the station’s plan. The FCC hit the station with a $4K fine based on the 2006 incident and has upheld the fine.
Oftentimes, prior notification violations involve pranks and practical jokes – we don’t often see it come up when a station is in the process of engaging in legitimate journalism.
In fact, the station is charging the FCC with trampling over its First Amendment rights, and at the same time, damaging the right of the station’s listeners to hear important news programming.
The FCC replied that the rule does not in any way restrict the broadcaster’s freedom of speech, and also notes that the rule – designed to safeguard the privacy of the person on the other end of the phone from the station and protect that person from harassment – is crafted narrowly enough to pass constitutional muster.
The FCC said, “[B]roadcasters are not precluded by the notice requirement from recording or broadcasting telephone conversations nor are they prevented from telephonically gathering information or testimony important to their broadcast functions.”
The FCC said that the station need only have informed the employees that they were being recorded for broadcast, and it is otherwise free to conduct investigative reporting and telephone interviews.
The FCC said the rule is simple. Identify the call as coming from a broadcast station and inform the recipient that it is to be played over the air before any other topic is discussed. That was not done in this case, so the $4K fine stands.