FCC Indecency Rulings Coming

Feb 27, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Ending more than a year-long drought on indecency enforcement, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to rule on dozens of pending complaints about off-color programming within the next week or so.

As part of the package, sources said, the agency, as long anticipated, is expected to reject CBS’s appeal of an FCC decision to fine the network’s 20 owned-and-operated stations a total of $550,000 for entertainer Janet Jackson’s exposure of her breast during the 2004 Super Bowl half-time show.

In addition, the package is expected to at long last resolve what to do about Nicole Richie’s use of variations of “f*ck” and “sh*t” during Fox’s broadcast coverage of the 2003 Billboard Music Awards.

FCC officials declined comment on their plans late last week. But sources said the package of planned decisions will reject many pending complaints, with the hope that the multiple rulings will provide broadcasters with additional clarity about what kinds of material the agency considers indecent.

In the wake of the furor over Ms. Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl exhibition, the FCC received 1.4 million complaints about off-color programming and levied $7.9 million in indecency fines during that year.

The agency also received more than 189,000 complaints about off-color programming in 2005, but failed to propose a single fine. The agency’s lack of action has been particularly intriguing because Kevin Martin, who has always been perceived as a hawk on indecency issues, assumed the agency’s chairmanship last March.

But Mr. Martin lacked the votes of support that he needed at the FCC last year, industry sources said.

Mr. Martin’s strongest anti-indecency ally at the agency is Democrat Michael Copps.

Kathleen Abernathy, Mr. Martin’s only GOP colleague at the agency last year, and Jonathan Adelstein, the remaining Democrat, were said to be cool to Mr. Martin’s enforcement overtures.

While Mr. Martin still presides over a four-vote agency, Deborah Taylor Tate has succeeded Ms. Abernathy as his second GOP vote. Industry speculation has it that the fact the agency is moving now suggests that Ms. Tate is more sympathetic to the chairman on indecency issues than Ms. Abernathy was.