FCC Accuses Networks of Sham Argument

Jul 11, 2006  •  Post A Comment

A day after the Federal Communications Commission asked a court to impose serious legal sanctions against CBS for violating court rules, the agency unleashed a barrage of new charges against not only CBS but Fox and NBC as well.

As the increasingly odd court battle over some March 15 indecency violations and the FCC’s attempt to revisit some of them before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals rules on the objections brought by several TV networks and stations, the FCC accused the three networks of essentially engaging in a sham argument that they would be hurt by the delay.

As proof, the FCC cited the failure of the networks so far to seek court review of earlier indecency rulings, among them the ruling that fined CBS stations $550,000 for airing Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. (CBS has petitioned the FCC to reconsider the fines.)

The failure to appeal the fine in court “casts considerable doubts” and “seriously undermines the credibility” of CBS’s argument that it would be damaged by delaying the new indecency case, the FCC said.

The FCC wants 60 days to reconsider some indecency actions it took in March against stations that didn’t lead to fines. Fox, NBC and CBS oppose the FCC’s reconsideration of those actions unless other indecency actions that led to fines are also put on hold while the FCC reconsiders.

The FCC in Tuesday’s motion also accused all of the media companies fighting its request — Fox, NBC and CBS — of engaging in a “shrill insistence” to present the request as a bad-faith delaying tactic, saying more license holders support the request than oppose it.

The FCC said Fox’s request for a delay of the fine cases was an “irregular and ill defined request” that “badly overreaches.” The agency also questioned NBC’s need for a delay since NBC has yet to request a court review of an indecency case involving the 2003 Golden Globe awards.

The filings came a day after the FCC accused CBS of violating court rules by citing confidential settlement discussions in trying to prevent the FCC from revisiting the case and asked that CBS’s motion be thrown out and for sanctions against CBS and its attorneys. CBS in a statement denied it acted illegally, but said that to avoid procedural obstacles it would refile its motion, minus the offending language.

Earlier Tuesday, CBS filed its revised motion but denied that it violated court rules.

Later, the FCC responded, saying essentially that CBS’s insistence that it didn’t violate the rules means it still should be punished.