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FCC Shifts Gears on Indecency

Jul 5, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Communications Commission is reversing course over a limited part of its controversial March indecency and profanity decision, joining with network affiliates challenging part of the actions to ask an appellate court to send them back to the FCC for reconsideration.

In a statement late Wednesday, the FCC hinted it is doing so not to reverse its action, but to ease the way for the networks and affiliated stations to make court arguments later on the issues.

The complicated omnibus indecency decision announced March 15 resolved complaints about 50 shows aired between February 2002 and March 2005. In the order the FCC upheld its earlier decision that the CBS broadcast of the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show represented indecent material. It fined CBS stations for airing a “Without a Trace” episode contained graphic sexual images of an orgy scene that were “impermissible,” and fined some other stations for other shows. Finally, it tried to draw clearer lines about profanity and indecency using four shows as examples.

It’s the last part that the commission is reconsidering. The commission found those four shows-ABC’s “NYPD Blue” (July 1 and 3, 2003), CBS’s “The Early Show” (Dec. 4, 2004) and Fox’s 2002 and 2003 “Billboard Music Awards”) — “apparently” violated a prohibition on indecent and profane materials, effectively adding the s-word to the f-word as banned expressions on TV.

Stations that ran the shows weren’t fined and so didn’t get the chance to respond that the FCC normally gives fined stations. Broadcasters subsequently complained that they were still injured and the FCC didn’t give them a proper chance to comment, depriving them of their rights. In a court filing Wednesday the FCC didn’t exactly back off the decisions, but it did agree to hear the broadcasters’ arguments on the four shows and rule on them within 60 days.

“Today the commission, supported by the ABC, NBC and CBS affiliates, filed a motion for voluntary remand and stay of briefing schedule in Fox Television Stations Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission,” an FCC spokesman said Wednesday. “It did so at the request of broadcasters who complained they did not have the opportunity to be heard by the commission before it issued its decision in … March. Additionally, the remand would allow the commission to hear all of the licensees’ arguments, which is necessary for the broadcasters to make these same arguments before the court.”