Viacom's Infinity fined for indecent content

WASHINGTON DC: Media conglomerate Viacom's radio unit Infinity Broadcasting has drawn the ire of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The media watchdog has fined the company $357,500 for airing in August last year, a segment on the Opie and Anthony Show featuring a Northern Virginia couple having sex in a Roman Catholic church.

FCC issued a release stating that this was the highest amount permitted by the Communications Act on the facts of this case. The Commission took the decision because of the egregious nature of the material, the involvement of many Infinity employees and managers in planning the marketing event, and Infinity's recent history of the airing of indecent or apparently indecent broadcasts.

FCC based its action on more than 500 complaints regarding Infinity's 15 August 2002, broadcast of an Infinity-hosted contest Sex for Sam. This involved participants having sex in "risky locations" throughout New York City, including St Patrick's Cathedral, a zoo, Rockefeller Center and a toy store.

However FCC Commissioner Michael J Copps felt that the fine imposed was inadequate. He said, "I dissent from the Commission's decisions to provide no more than a slap on the wrist to Infinity rather than take serious action to address indecency on our airwaves. Today, the majority proposes a $27,500 fine for each incident of airing what the majority agrees appears to be indecent programming at a time when children likely composed a significant portion of the audience."

Copps continued, "In the case of Infinity/Viacom, 13 stations ran the Opie and Anthony Show which contained a broadcast of sexual activity at St Patrick's Cathedral in New York as part of an on-air stunt. In this stunt Sex for Sam, couples received points for having sex in public places. In addition to St Patrick's Cathedral, the broadcast described sexual activity at restaurants, at the Disney Store and at FAO Schwartz."

Cops said he defied anyone to read the transcript and argue that the broadcast does not violate the statutory prohibition against airing indecent material. "And I defy anyone to argue that a $27,500 fine to each of the stations owned by a multi-billion dollar conglomerate is adequate to address this clear violation of federal law. Infinity/Viacom could pay this entire fine by tacking just one more commercial onto one of its prime-time TV shows and probably pocket a profit to boot. Some punishment!" he said.

The commissioner went on to point out that this was not the first action against a station owned by Infinity. Infinity stations paid $1.7 million in 1995 to settle a series of indecency cases. As part of that settlement, Infinity had agreed to take steps to prevent further broadcast of indecent material. More complaints involving other Infinity broadcasts followed.

He explained, "Last April, this Commission issued another tepid proposed fine against another station owned by this same company - WKRK-FM in Detroit - which had aired some of the most vulgar and disgusting indecency that I have had the misfortune to examine. In that decision, the majority warned that repeated serious violations by Infinity could result in the revocation of station licenses. The majority repeats that same warning again in this decision."

The release adds that two months before the airing of the Sex for Sam episode the FCC had cited the same show for three separate apparent violations of the indecency statutes. These shows aired between November 2000 and January 2001.

In one instance, a graphic song showcasing a father having oral sex with his young daughter was broadcast. In the second instance, the Opie and Anthony Show aired another graphic song by a man seeking girls between the ages of two and three for sex. In the third instance, the show provided detailed and vulgar instructions to a teenager.

The commissioner added, "If this situation does not meet the majority's test for repeated violators, I fail to understand what would. The message to licensees is clear. Even egregious repeated violations will not result in revocation of a license. Rather, they will result only in a financial penalty that doesn't even rise to a serious cost of doing business. I wonder when this Commission will finally take a firm stand against the "race to the bottom" on our airwaves."

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