Office of Public Affairs, Public Service Division,
1919 M Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20554
202-418-0200/TTY 202-418-2555


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 FCC?

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 as possible.

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 complaint?

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.