But Fox, Tribune and others caught in the FCC’s $4 million crackdown on broadcast indecency are still considering their options.
CBS and NBC are vowing to challenge stiff FCC fines for indecent TV broadcasting, going to court if necessary.
The two broadcasters were among those caught up in the FCC’s sweeping enforcement against indecency on broadcast TV yesterday. Two other prominent broadcasters hit with fines—Tribune and Fox—decline to say whether they would pay or appeal.
Seven CBS-owned stations and 104 CBS affiliates were fined $32,500 each for a Dec. 31, 2004, broadcast of a teen party scene in an episode of the primetime series Without a Trace. The fines against the 111 stations total $3.6 million.
The FCC also affirmed an earlier fine of $550,000 against the CBS-owned stations for the notorious 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, in which one of Janet Jackson’s breasts was momentarily exposed.
NBC is in trouble for an Oct. 9, 2004, broadcast by one of its Telemundo Spanish-language stations, KWHY Los Angeles. The FCC fined the station $32,500 for a rape scene in the movie Con El Corazon En La Mano.
In all, the FCC yesterday issued nearly $4 million in new fines to 118 stations for broadcasting one of seven different programs; found that four other stations had violated its standards, but chose not to find them; and dismissed complaints against stations and networks for 17 other programs.
CBS said it apologized two years ago for “the inappropriate and unexpected half-time incident” involving Jackson. “We will continue to pursue all remedies necessary to affirm our legal rights.”
As for the Trace broadcast, CBS also said it “strongly disagrees” with the fine.The scene was “socially relevantÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦warning parents to exercise greater supervision of their teenage children. ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦ We will pursue all remedies necessary to affirm our legal rights, while knowing that millions of Americans give their stamp of approval to Without A Trace each week.”
NBC said that the rape scene in the KWHY broadcast did not violate the statutory indecency standard and that the FCC doesn’t have the “authority to censor a program based on its own taste. … If the FCC adheres to its ruling, we intend to challenge it in court.”
The FCC fined five other TV stations a total of $322,500 for language (“shit” and “fuck”) and for explicit sexual images.
The agency also found that four other broadcasters violated indecency standards by airing either “shit” or “fuck” or some variation of the words—Hearst-Argyle Television’s KMBC Kansas City, Mo., CBS’s KDKA Pittsburgh, the Fox network and Fox’s WTTG Washington. However, the FCC said it did not issue fines in these cases because the violations occurred at a time when the FCC permitted “isolated use of expletives.” The FCC said the violations could not be held against the stations when their licenses come up for renewal.
The other station that drew fines:
Tribune Broadcasting’s WBDC Washington, for the Feb. 8, 2004, broadcast of The WB’s The Surreal Life 2, in which former porn star Ron Jeremy and comedian Andy Dick cavort with half-naked women. “During the ten-minute sequence depicting this party, the episode displays approximately 20 pixilated views of various female guests’ nude breasts and, in one case, a female guest’s entire nude body,” the FCC said. The initial comment from Tribune and The WB is “no comment.” Fine amount: $27,500 (the maximum at the time of the broadcast).
Fox’s KTVI St. Louis, for the March 15, 2003, broadcast of the movie The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper, which contained repeated use of “shit.” Fox said only that it disagrees with the FCC action. Fine: $27,500 (maximum at time of broadcast).
WJAN, a Spanish-language Class A station serving Miami and owned by Sherja Broadcasting Co., for the Oct. 19, 2004, broadcast of Fernando Hidalgo Show, in which a woman bared her breast. The FCC was not persuaded by the fact that the woman was wearing pasties or by the station’s claim that it was a “comedy routine.” Fine amount: $32,500.
WJSU San Juan, P.R., licensed to Aerco Broadcasting Corp., for 14 broadcasts of three music videos and a promo for a DVD. Among others things, one of the videos featured a boy simulating masturbation. Fine amount: $220,000 (less than the maximum of $385,000).
KCSM San Mateo, Calif., a noncommercial station run by the San Mateo County Community College District, for the March 11, 2004, broadcast of a PBS documentary The Blues: Godfathers and Sons. The FCC cited the station for multiple utterances of “fuck” and “shit” in the broadcast.
KCSM General Manager Marilyn Lawrence says the college has not decided how it will proceed, but she defended the broadcast. “I don’t want to offend people,” she said. “That is not my goal in life.” The program, part of a six-part series, is history, she said. “I don’t think the language was used inappropriately to try to get a rise out of people. It’s how people felt at the time.”
Lawrence noted that no one complained to the FCC when WQED aired the program earlier in the same market and only one out of the seven million people in the market complained when KSCM aired it. She said she now has an edited version of the series, but is not certain she would use it until she is convinced that editing has not diminished it. “Does it have the same feel and emotion?” she asked. Lawrence makes one concession: If she had it to do over again, she said, she would have scheduled it after 10 p.m., when the law permits indecent programming. Fine amount: $15,000. (That’s “a lot of money for a tiny college station,” said Lawrence.)