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What If Your Station Is "Occupied?"

12-16-2011

Although the "Occupy Clear Channel" movement turned out to be a big fat dud, it sparked an interesting question from a Radio Ink Reader. What if a rowdy little flash-mob did all of a sudden turn up at your station, all demanding to see your public file. As you know, radio station public files are some of the most interesting and compelling reading for the average Jack and Jill. It could happen right? Just in case it does, we asked broadcast attorney John Garziglia what you should do if the crazies all of a sudden storm the station demanding to read your quarterly issues report.

Radio Ink asks:  With the reports that the Public Files were going to be “stormed” by the Occupy protesters in a number of markets can you restrict the number of people allowed to view the file at one time?

John Garziglia says:  It is interesting and almost comical, given the historical general antipathy exhibited by the public to the local public file document stash, that all of a sudden there is a legitimate issue over too many people wishing to simultaneously inspect a radio station’s local public file. There has never been an FCC decision to my knowledge that speaks to such a situation of too many people trying to inspect the local public file.  Here is a quick review of the accessibility aspects of the FCC’s local public file rules. 

The local public file must be accessible during regular business hours.  A broadcast station may not require a member of the public to make an appointment in advance or return at another time to inspect the public file, or examine the public file only at times most convenient to the station’s staff. The public file must be provided upon request to members of the public visiting the station and without requiring that they identify themselves, their organization, or the particular documents they wish to inspect. Requests for copying must be honored for a reasonable duplication fee.

So, a radio station all of a sudden has a flash-mob of people all wishing to immediately inspect a radio station’s local public file.  What to do?   My simple advice – ask that a line be formed.  Be friendly, reasonable, and accommodating.   Maybe even be pleasant by handing out coffee, soda and a few T-shirts.  Try to turn what could be a public relations fiasco into a positive media event for the radio station. 

You should, of course, only allow people into the station based upon how many people can reasonably be accommodated in whatever are the facilities the radio station has to allow for public inspection of the local public file.  If the radio station has a conference room that seats 10 people, then let in eight or nine people at a time, allowing for one or two station personnel to assist.  If a radio station only has room for two or three people at a time, then let in two or three people at a time.  Further, anyone who by his or her actions suggests that he or she will damage the local public file or disrupt station operations may be asked to immediately leave. 

I cannot think of anything more boring to a member of the public than FCC ownership reports, annual EEO public file reports and issues/programs lists.  While this mass public file inspection event might be highly distressing to your station’s staff, remind your staff and yourself that this swarm of people is likely to be a one-time affair, unless your actions provoke the group to make an example out of the station. 

Also, remind your station’s staff that the radio station will incur far more in time and expense in responding to an FCC complaint of failing to make the local public file available, than it will in trying to pleasantly accommodate a group of people for a day or so in inspecting the local public file.  And assuming your local public file is complete and up-to-date, did I mention that the people inspecting your local public file are unlikely to find much of anything in it that is stimulating to them.   

John F. Garziglia is a Communications Law Attorney with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Washington, DC and can be reached at (202) 857-4455 or jgarziglia@wcsr.com. Have a question for our "Ask The Attorney" feature? Send to edryan@radioink.com.




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- hcozvnm
(12/19/2011 5:40:39 PM)
John,

You are supposing that these vermin are logical and reasonable. They are not.
I'd let them in one at a time during business hours. The rest can wait outside. And they can't use the bathroom.

- Phil
(12/16/2011 4:17:50 PM)
I think it's a little too early to call 'Occupy Clear Channel' a "dud".

- Occupier

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