FCC fines Pacifica Foundation $25,000 for underwriting violations

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Mike Janssen/Current

The Pacifica Foundation must pay a $25,000 penalty in an FCC consent decree resulting from violations of underwriting and sponsorship identification rules. 

The FCC will also grant a short-term two-year license renewal to Pacifica’s WBAI in New York City once the penalty is fully paid. Renewals are typically for eight years. 

The agreement comes after the commission launched an inquiry over allegations that WBAI broadcasts of The Gary Null Show, Off the Hook and a special featuring Christine Blosdale included calls to action, descriptions of price information, and “inducements” to buy products or services. 

The claims were raised in a petition filed by Pacifica Safety Net, a California-based nonprofit of listeners, donors and supporters of Pacifica’s five stations. The petition and other informal objections came as the FCC considered WBAI’s license renewal.

The consent decree was adopted and released Tuesday, ending the FCC investigation. As part of the decree, Pacifica acknowledged it violated underwriting and sponsorship identification rules.  

Pacifica will be required to implement a compliance plan, including operating procedures, a compliance manual, and a training program for employees. 

Ernest Sanchez, a longtime public broadcasting attorney and founder of Sanchez Law Firm, said the consent decree was the “only sensible outcome” for WBAI. 

“All of the evidence that was cited was very damning,” Sanchez said. 

He added that the matter could have gone on for years.

“They still wouldn’t have a renewal,” Sanchez said. “They would probably be spending many hundreds of thousands of dollars in trying to fight it.”

The $25,000 fine was “much smaller” than Sanchez expected. He compared it to a consent decree adopted in 2020 when the University of Arkansas, a licensee of noncommercial stations, received a $76,000 penalty over violating underwriting laws.

“I’m surprised the fine was as low as $25,000, because I think the allegations against Pacifica are far more extreme than any of those that the University of Arkansas had to contend with,” Sanchez said. 

In its petition, Pacifica Safety Net had called on the FCC to apply sanctions and demand removal of those responsible for the violations instead of rejecting WBAI’s license renewal.

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