Cable TV

FCC hits CBS with record fines for indecency

MUMBAI: Renewing a campaign against broadcast indecency, the US Federal Communications Commission ( FCC) upheld a decision to fine television broadcasters for violating federal decency limits, including a record $3.6 million for stations that aired a show depicting group sex.

The agency also upheld its decision to fine 20 CBS stations $550,000 for singer Janet Jackson's faux pas during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.

All four big-timers--ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC-were fined for indecent content. But, CBS incurred the highest penalties and were fined $3.63 million, the most ever, for an episode of the show Without A Trace that depicted a teen orgy. The fine is to be shared by 111 CBS stations, according to media reports.

Marking the first proposed fines in more than a year, the FCC addressed more than 300,000 backlogged indecency complaints and issued long-awaited decisions the agency said were aimed at giving broadcasters a better idea of what they could and could not air.

"Although the scene contains no nudity, it does depict male and female teenagers in various stages of undress," the FCC said, adding there were shots depicting intercourse and group sex. CBS denied wrongdoing in the cases and said it would "pursue all remedies necessary to affirm our legal rights." The stations could appeal to the FCC and the federal courts.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin fired back. "We appropriately reject the argument that CBS continues to make that this material is not indecent.That argument runs counter to commission precedent and common sense."

Martin added, "These decisions, taken both individually and as a whole, demonstrate the commission's continued commitment to enforcing the law prohibiting the airing of obscene, indecent and profane material. We believe that they will provide substantial guidance to broadcasters and the public about the types of programing that are impermissible."

The FCC has tightened its reins on all broadcast programming significantly since the Super Bowl incident. A batch of radio rulings will also be forthcoming, quoting FCC officials.

Federal regulations bar television and radio broadcast stations from airing obscene material and limit them to airing indecent material, such as profanity and sexually explicit content, during late-night hours when children are less likely to be in the audience.

Congress has been considering boosting fines for violating decency limits to as much as $500,000 per violation from the current maximum of $32,500.

Around 50 TV shows were put under the scanner, with the FCC refusing to take action on complaints about material in 28 programs, including an episode of Oprah in which teenage sexual activity was discussed.

On the other hand, Fox was found guilty of violating indecency standards with its 2003 telecast of the Billboard Music Awards. The Parent Television Council was none too pleased when Nicole Richie and costar Paris Hilton used two profane words . Fox was not fined at the time because the FCC was not taking action then against individual uses of expletives. But Martin has said that the agency should be fining each "offensive utterance".

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