FCC Levies Largest Collective Fine in History of U.S. Broadcasting

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“Payola” is the term for a practice in which radio broadcasters accept gifts and money from recording companies in exchange for playing music those companies select. Payola is fairly common, and actually legal if, when they play a track, radio broadcasters disclose who paid them to play it. (The FCC’s rules on payola are easy to find, and quite clear.) Of course, you never hear a radio DJ saying, “We’ve been paid $3,000 to play this next J. Lo. track, so enjoy!”

The FCC is sending a message to change all that. Clear Channel Communications, CBS Radio, Entercom Communications, and Citadel Broadcasting have been fined a collective $12.5 million and will now be required to track every gift they receive worth more than $25. The fine is the largest in the history of American broadcasting.

My favorite part of the ruling, though, is this:

On top of the fines, the radio companies voluntarily agreed to launch a new program for independent artists… This local artist showcase commits the industry to 4,200 hours of airplay across the four companies between 6 a.m. and midnight.

In a previous payola investigation, Sony BMG Music Entertainment — which includes Arista Records, Columbia Records, and Sony Music — had to pay $10 million after then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer went after it.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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