Nets Accuse FCC of Playing Politics With Indecency

Aug 8, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Major broadcast networks have accused the Federal Communication Commission of playing politics with indecency violations, trying to manipulate the courts into affirming the legality of fines for Janet Jackson’s bare breast Super Bowl incident before challenges to lesser violations are decided.

“The FCC’s tactics … raise a serious question as to whether the commission is attempting to manipulate the judicial process to obtain a decision [on the Super Bowl incident] prior to any judicial review relating to fleeting expletives [in the other cases],” said a petition filed Tuesday by Fox Television Stations, CBS Broadcasting, NBC Universal and Fox affiliates.

The petition was filed in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, where Fox Television Stations and CBS are attempting to overturn a March 15 FCC action ending a series of indecency cases with an omnibus order. In the March 15 order the FCC attempted to distinguish between what is and isn’t indecent by fining CBS stations for airing an episode of “Without a Trace” containing graphic images of an orgy and WB stations for airing certain episodes of “The Surreal Life 2” while also ruling indecent but levying no fines against four other programs: 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.”

After CBS and Fox appealed the indecency decisions and the fines, the FCC took the unusual step of asking the court to delay any proceeding to let it reconsider part of its ruling. The FCC said there was some concern that broadcasters who aired the four programs that weren’t fined may not have had adequate ability to respond before the ruling that they were indecent was issued.

Fox and CBS are fighting any delay and joined with NBC in arguing that the FCC purposely moved swiftly in the Janet Jackson case while delaying the potentially less clear omnibus case.

“The FCC’s efforts to accelerate review of the Super Bowl order stand in stark contrast to its efforts to delay and frustrate judicial review of the Omnibus Order,” the filing said.

The FCC declined comment.