The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday adopted new rules designed to limit the payments radio and TV station owners may make to "quick-buck artists" who challenge station licenses.
The FCC has been concerned about frivolous challenges to station licenses and sham applications made by entities that hope to get license-holders to pay them off rather than fight the competing applications.Challenges may be made during the renewal process or by a direct petition to deny a license renewal on grounds the station is not serving the public interest.
The rules adopted Thursday would ban all settlement payments prior to an initial decision by the FCC in a comparative hearing and would limit payments after that hearing to "the legitimate and prudent expenses of the withdrawing applicant." In petitions to deny, the payments would be limited to the same legitimate and prudent expenses standard.
The new rules also require prior FCC approval of all payment agreements, and they eliminate the so-called Cameron doctrine that allowed competing applicants to presume that they could acquire the incumbent licensee's transmitter site and avoid completion of an engineering application.
The commission also voted to revise the form filed by challengers to require additional financial, ownership and other information.
"Our actions today will greatly discourage, if not eliminate, the filing of comparative applications and petitions to deny with the intent to extort cash settlements," FCC Chairman Dennis R. Patrick said.
He said the rules "will help ensure that comparative applications are filed only in a good faith effort to secure the broadcast license, and that petitions to deny are filed only in a good faith effort to correct perceived injury to the public interest. These actions will go a long way toward curbing abuse of process to the benefit of legitimate participants and the public generally."