MPT faces proposed $20,000 fine from FCC

The Baltimore Sun

The Federal Communication Commission's Media Bureau has proposed a $20,000 fine against Maryland Public Television for alleged violations of the agency's equal opportunity employment rules and "false" reporting to the FCC about the alleged infractions.

The FCC action, formally known as Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture, charges that MPT failed to inform a Columbia-based broadcasting school of job openings and then provided what the communications law publication "Antenna" characterized as "false" information to the FCC when questioned about it.

The FCC action was first reported in the January issue of "Antenna."

Steven Schupak, MPT's chief content officer, Wednesday shared a copy of MPT's formal response to the FCC with The Sun. The public broadcaster disputes the charges and wants the FCC to drop the proposed fines.

The time period in question ran from June 1, 2008 through May 31, 2010. During that time, MPT filled 11 full-time positions, according to the FCC charges, but allegedly did not inform the CSB School of Broadcasting of those openings.

The proposed fine for that is for $1,000.

But, according to "Antenna," the Maryland public broadcaster contradicted itself in two filings with the FCC as to whether it did or didn't inform CSB of the openings.

In one response to an FCC audit letter, MPT said it had not received any requests from CSB for notice of job openings.

But in a equal employment opportunity file for 2009-2010, the broadcaster said it keeps a list of all the employers who asked to be notified of job openings and that CSB is on the list and had been notified.

According to the magazine, "The inconsistent statements regarding CSB gave rise to the most serious accusation... as measured by the amount of the proposed forfeiture. The
Bureau proposed... $1,000 for the notification failure; $2,000 for the failure to analyze; and $17,000 for submitting a false statement."

In an email to The Sun Wednesday, Schupak characterized the conflicting reports as an "inconsistency," adding that the broadcaster believes the FCC has "overreacted."

"MPT maintains a list of organizations that request notification about available jobs throughout the year and MPT regularly submits reports about this information to the FCC," Schupak wrote.

"In one such report in the 2008-2009 timeframe MPT stated that one organization (which went out of business around the same time) requested notification.  In a subsequent audit report, MPT reported to the FCC that no organization had requested notification during that time.

"This inconsistency was the sole basis for the FCC’s finding and the FCC has acknowledged that MPT's error was unintentional.  MPT has filed a thorough Response with the FCC contesting its proposed action.  As explained in the Response, MPT maintains that the FCC has overreacted and that any violation was at most a minor administrative oversight."

As to whether MPT's actions involved what "Antenna" calls "false" information or what MPT labels an "minor administrative oversight," the actual language of the bureau's proposed fine charges MPT with "providing material factual information that was incorrect without a reasonable basis for believing that the information was correct and not misleading."

In its formal response opposing the FCC Media Bureau's fines, Maryland Public Television concludes, "At worst, MPT's isolated inconsistency warrants an admonishment."

According to the FCC website, "The Media Bureau develops, recommends and administers the policy and licensing programs relating to electronic media, including cable television, broadcast television, and radio in the United States and its territories." 

Stay tuned for how the Federal Communications Commission rules.


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