FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
Office of Public Affairs, Public Service Division,
1919 M Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20554
HOW TO FILE A COMPLAINT AGAINST A BROADCASTER
The Federal Communications Commission is an independent governmental agency
among whose responsibilities are the licensing and regulating of radio and
television stations. Because of these responsibilities, the Commission receives
a number of inquiries and complaints from persons who believe that a specific
broadcast station has violated the rules or policies of the Commission.
Complaints play an important role in the enforcement activities of the Commission.
Complaints from, for example, the public or other stations in the community
are often the first notice to the Commission about technical violations
at a station or licensee misconduct.
1. What are the steps and processes involved in filing a complaint with
The only complaints that the Commission can act on are allegations that
a station has violated a provision of the Communications Act or the Commission's
rules and policies. For example, the Commission has no basis for acting
on a complaint that a program contains too much violence because there is
no prohibition against violence. On the other hand, a complaint that a station
broadcast indecent material, accompanied by a tape of the offending material,
can be entertained by the Commission because a statute prohibits the broadcast
of such material. Often it is wise to submit your complaint first to the
station involved. The station may recognize the merit of your complaint
and take corrective action or explain the matter to your satisfaction. If
you are not satisfied with the station's response, you may wish to contact
the Commission. If you have a reason for not disclosing your identity when
submitting a complaint, you may request that your identity not be disclosed.
Submit your complaint promptly after the event to which it relates, making
certain that you provide the Commission with as many facts as possible.
The following information should be included with your complaint:
1. Your full name and address.
2. The call letters and location of the station.
3. The name of the program to which the complaint relates and the date and
time of the broadcast.
4. A statement of what the station has done or failed to do that is as specific
2. Does my complaint have to be in writing?
The Commission strongly prefers that complaints be submitted in writing.
If your complaint is of a time sensitive nature, especially if it involves
safety, you may phone the Complaints and Investigations Branch at (202)
632-7048. It may wish to consider acting on its own motion pending receipt
of a written complaint.
3. Is there a form I should use when filing my complaint?
The Commission has no requirements concerning the form in which a complaint
must be filed.
4. Who handles my complaint?
The Complaints and Investigations Branch of the FCC's Mass Media Bureau
is the office that handles complaints against radio and television stations.
The Branch is located at the Federal Communications Commission, 1919 M
Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20554, telephone (202) 632-7048.
5. What happens to my complaint once it is filed with the FCC?
If the complaint alleges specific facts sufficient to indicate a violation
of the Communications Act or the Commission's rules or policies, it is investigated.
Investigations usually start by written inquiry to the station involved.
Occasionally, an on-site investigation is deemed appropriate. In some
cases, the Commission's Field Operations Bureau, that has offices throughout
the United States, participates in the investigation.
If the staff concludes that there has been a violation, a sanction will
be imposed on the station. Sanctions include a letter of admonition, a
fine that could be as high as $250,000, and, in the most serious cases of
licensee misconduct, a hearing order to determine whether the licensee has
the requisite qualifications to remain a licensee.
If the complaint does not allege a substantial violation of the Communications
Act or the Commission's rules or policies, a letter will be sent to the
complainant explaining these matters.
6. What is the average length of time it takes the FCC to respond to my
The Commission reviews all complaints promptly upon receipt. Because each
complaint is handled individually, the time required to resolve a complaint
depends on its complexity.
7. Does the FCC notify complainants of action taken against the station?
Complainants are notified in writing of the action the Commission takes
on their complaints.
8. Is there a formal way to protest the conduct of a licensee?
Yes, formal protests can be lodged by the filing of a Petition to Deny,
before the end of the first day of the last full calendar month of the licensee's
expiring license term. Stations are required to announce in their community
the deadline for filing Petitions to Deny. Radio station licenses are renewed
every 7 years; television station licenses are renewed every 5 years.
9. Which FCC rules and regulations govern filing a complaint?
There is no rule or regulation that governs filing a complaint against a
licensee. However, "The FCC and Broadcasting" outlines the jurisdiction
of the Commission and provides practical advice about how to file complaints
with the Commission and directly with licensees.