The FCC Enforcement Bureau recently assessed a Notice of Apparently liability for $20,000 against a station for failing to follow its own contest rules. The Commission’s Contest Rules require a licensee to “fully and accurately disclose the material terms” of a contest it broadcasts or advertises, and to conduct the contest “substantially as announced and advertised. Under the rules broadcast licensees must disclose material contest terms either by broadcasting those terms or making them available in writing on a publicly accessible internet website, and requires that the licensee maintain material contest terms on the website for at least thirty days after the contest has concluded.
The Commission’s core principle is that contests must be conducted substantially as announced and advertised. Material terms include any eligibility restrictions and means of selecting winners. Any ambiguities in contest rule disclosures will be construed against the licensee.
A failure to disclose material terms when the contest rules were ambiguous and open to various interpretations. Contest broadcast announcements are considered “false, misleading, or deceptive ‘if the net impression of the announcement has a tendency to mislead the public.’” Moreover, there is a violation of the Contest Rule when station personnel misapply a station’s contest rules resulting in the wrongful exclusion of contestants.
In the present case, the FCC found that a station contest was not conducted in accordance with the station’s own written rules. The rules stated that no one who had won another station contest in the 30 days prior to the start of the contest could win again. Here, an apparent winner was disqualified as he had won another station contest about two months after the start of the contest in question. The FCC said that, as the language of the rule could be read to only prohibit winners who had won in the 30 days before the start of the contest, and this contestant won the other contest after the start of the contest, the winner should not have been blocked from winning. Also, the contest rules were removed from the station’s website immediately after the contest ended, when the FCC rules requires that the rules be kept on the website for at least 30 days after the end of the contest.
To see a copy of the Enforcement Bureau’s Decision, click HERE.
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