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FCC fines KCET-TV for withholding access to public records

February 9, 2011 |  6:19 pm

KCET-TV Channel 28 may have tried to take the public out of "public broadcasting" -- and now it's in hot water with the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC has fined the station, formerly the flagship Southern California outlet for PBS, $10,000 for "willfully and repeatedly violating" rules that allow the public to view station records. Since leaving PBS on Jan. 1, KCET, under longtime chief Al Jerome, has become the nation's largest independent public broadcaster.

According to the government report, an FCC agent visited KCET's Silver Lake facility without identifying himself as a commission staffer on Aug. 19 and asked to see the station's public inspection file. The security guard told him he must call first to see the file, or speak with a station manager. The agent came back the next morning and got the same response. Later that day, he visited a third time and finally gained entry -- but only after he flashed his FCC badge. The agent viewed the records and found them to be in order. KCET employees later told the agent the station's general counsel was away and that they were unaware of the FCC's public inspection rules.

That's too bad for KCET, because FCC rules say that the "file shall be available for public inspection at any time during regular business hours." News of the violation was reported in the trade magazine TVB.

Asked for comment, a KCET spokeswoman responded: "As stated in the FCC notice, KCET's public inspection files are in order. KCET is looking into the alleged violation and will respond to the FCC notice by the March 10, 2011 deadline."

The penalty isn't good news for KCET, which needs to watch every penny now that it's trying to build viewership with a new lineup of non-PBS programs.

-- Scott Collins (Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT)

Photo: Al Jerome, chief executive of KCET-TV. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times