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« on: March 22, 2006, 02:31:05 AM »

Nets to Fight FCC Indecency Fines

Todd Shields

MARCH 20, 2006 -

Federal regulators said they wanted to clarify indecency law as they levied nearly $4 million in fines for TV broadcasts, including a record $3.6 million for a single show on CBS. But the action last week by the Federal Communications Commission left TV execs and First Amendment lawyers apprehensive and confused—and the networks defensive, defiant and possibly heading for a court showdown.

“We will pursue all remedies necessary to affirm our legal rights,” CBS said after the record penalty was spread across 111 stations for a teen orgy scene in Without a Trace—a depiction aimed at emphasizing the need for tighter parental supervision. The FCC also reaffirmed $550,000 in penalties for the baring of Janet Jackson’s breast during the 2004 Super Bowl broadcast on CBS. NBC said flatly it would legally challenge its latest penalty. KWHY in Los Angeles got slapped with a $32,500 proposed fine for a graphic rape scene that included no nudity. The FCC criticized its airing on a Saturday at 8:15 p.m., before the 10 p.m.-to-6 a.m. safe harbor when children are deemed less likely to be watching.

In all, the FCC passed judgment March 15 on 49 shows, saying it had cleared up over 300,000 consumer complaints. The findings were the first indecency rulings by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican who took office in March 2005 with strong support from Christian and conservative groups eager to banish what they consider to be indecent programming from prime-time schedules.

Two days after proposing the fines, Martin told reporters he believed the 117 pages of rulings had helped to lay out what is permissible and what isn’t. “I think that’s more guidance than there was before the orders,” Martin said. “There’s inherently lines that end up being drawn.”

The FCC action drew praise from the Christian Coalition and the Parents Television Council, which said the sanctioned material “does not belong on broadcast television when millions of children are in the viewing audience.” Agency actions included proposed fines totaling $350,000 for five programs and for a batch of music videos and promos aired in Puerto Rico, as well as findings that 17 broadcasts did not violate indecency laws, among them Oprah Winfrey’s frank discussion on daytime TV of teen sex practices.

Along the way, the FCC appeared to make some new policy, notably by deciding that what it took to calling the S-word was the outlaw equivalent that the F-word became with a 2004 ruling—that is to say, likely to draw a fine unless there were extraordinary and undefined extenuating circumstances. Curiously, the agency made a point of saying “dickhead” is not presumptively offensive in the same manner as, say, the S-word derivative, “bulls--t.”

Elsewhere, it levied a fine for a buxom woman’s appearance in a scanty dress and deadpanned, “The dress only served to enhance the view.” In considering an episode of Fox’s The Simpsons, the agency said it assumed “the depiction of female cartoon characters dancing in lingerie” could fall afoul of indecency law, but not in this instance in part because “no cartoon character is shown completely nude.”

The agency proposed $15,000 in penalties against KCSM, a community college TV station in San Mateo, Calif., for salty language in the Martin Scorcese/Marc Levin documentary The Blues: Godfathers and Sons that aired before 10 p.m. Station general manager Marilyn Lawrence told Mediaweek she could not tell why The Blues did not receive consideration like Saving Private Ryan, which the FCC decided had sufficient artistic merit to offset its use of the F-word. “Where is the line?” asked Lawrence. “I don’t know any more.”

Nets to Fight FCC Indecency Fines

My note; If you wouldn't want Jesus watching it, turn it off.
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