FCC Says Syndicator's Affiliation Provisions Violated Rules
February 12, 2010 at 12:08 PM (PT)
The FCC has granted ROCKING M RADIO's request for a declaratory ruling that affiliation agreements two of its stations, KSMM-A-F/LIBERAL, KS, had with STECKLINE COMMUNICATIONS, INC. for MID-AMERICA AG NETWORK and MID-AMERICA NEWS NETWORK programming violated Commission rules. ROCKING M flipped the stations to Spanish language formats and told STECKLINE that it would no longer carry the English-language programming or commercials, whereupon STECKLINE sued ROCKING M for breach of contract.
The Commission ruled that the contracts impermissibly bound ROCKING M to carry the programming in perpetuity, thus infringing on the licensee's ultimate control over programming, although the Commission also noted that liquidated damages for canceling an affiliation contract are permitted. The FCC found the length of the contracts violated the rule against "unreasonably lengthy" brokerage and programming agreements. In addition, since the stations were owned by the STECKLINE family when the contracts were executed, the Commission found that the contracts were "self-dealing" and impermissible revisionary interests once the stations changed hands.
ROCKING M also brought to the Commission's attention other deals between STECKLINE and affiliates that run for 40 years and require affiliates not to change format to anything rendering the STECKLINE programming inappropriate, and include the right for STECKLINE to buy additional ad time at fixed rates; the Commission called the provisions "inconsistent with licensees' obligation to retain independent control over material broadcast on their stations."
The case remains active at the Enforcement Bureau, where ROCKING M has a pending complaint about the same agreements.