Friday, March 17, 2006

American Taliban IV: FCC Indecency Fine on CBS Show...

The FCC is the enforcer arm for the American Taliban....

The Wall Street Journal

FCC Levies Record Indecency Fine on CBS Show

'Without a Trace' Episode Draws $3.6 Million Penalty For Network and Affiliates


March 16, 2006; Page B13

WASHINGTON -- Federal regulators proposed a record $3.6 million fine against a single TV show, penalizing CBS and its affiliates for an episode of "Without a Trace" that suggested a teenage sexual orgy, in the first batch of indecency fines proposed in more than a year.

In total, the Federal Communications Commission addressed about 60 outstanding complaints against television broadcasts, finding violations against 11 shows. Of those, seven received fines.

Overall, the FCC's action didn't provide a broad sweeping vision for broadcasters about what is appropriate for television despite suggestions from new Chairman Kevin Martin that such guidance was forthcoming. Nor were the fines as harsh as some broadcasters had feared, given Mr. Martin's previous comments about fining stations every time a dirty word was spoken, instead of once an episode.

Notably, the FCC backed away from an effort to impose higher fines by holding all network affiliates responsible for a broadcast, instead of just the stations that had been flagged by a viewer in a complaint.

Overall, the complaints affirmed the FCC's stance that common four-letter expletives aren't suitable for broadcast and would draw fines, except in "rare cases" that such language was "demonstrably essential to the nature of an artistic or educational work," such as the war film "Saving Private Ryan," which the FCC had previously found was permissible to broadcast.

FCC officials said yesterday's fines against the seven shows were designed to provide broadcasters guidelines on acceptable use of dirty words and sexual innuendo, but many of the offenses deemed to violate FCC guidelines were somewhat routine. For example, the FCC assessed a $27,500 fine for a "Pool Party" episode of the WB Television Network's "The Surreal Life 2" in 2004, which the FCC said went over the line by featuring 20 nude female friends of porn actor Ron Jeremy. Although the network used pixilation to obscure the women's bodies, the FCC ruled it was "unmistakable" that partygoers were exposing themselves and "participating in sexual activities."

CBS's "Without a Trace" drew the $3.6 million fine against 111 stations for an episode that showed no nudity, but featured scenes suggesting a teen orgy. The FCC also rejected an appeal by CBS Corp. and upheld a $550,000 fine for Janet Jackson's breast-flashing Super Bowl halftime show two years ago, finding that the network didn't do enough to protect viewers from the flash of skin.

In a statement, CBS said it disagrees with the FCC about its fines on the Super Bowl broadcast and "Without a Trace" and suggested it would take the FCC to court over the matter, noting the network would "pursue all remedies necessary to affirm our legal rights."

In total, the FCC proposed fines of about $4 million, including the $3.6 million "Without a Trace" fine but not including the Super Bowl fine, which had been previously levied. A further four shows were found to be indecent, but didn't have fines levied against them. Complaints against dozens of shows were rejected, including one about an episode of Oprah Winfrey's talk show that featured graphic language about teen sex.

Broadly, the FCC also stepped back from its effort to impose indecency fines against any station that broadcast a show found to be lewd. In several cases it fined only network affiliates that actually had a complaint lodged against them. That's in contrast to the FCC's $1.2 million fine two years ago against Fox Television and affiliates that broadcast an episode of "Married by America," even though the complaint didn't list those affiliates.

Democratic FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said it was "patently arbitrary to hold some stations but not others accountable for the same broadcast."

The true pleasures in life are almost always overshadowed by the blatently obvious ones.

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