Indecency Raises its Ugly Head

October 15, 2004
While legislation to raise broadcast indecency fines languished on Capitol Hill, the FCC slapped Fox with a doozey.

The commission levied a combined fine of nearly $1.2 million against Fox network affiliates for airing an episode of a now-defunct reality program, "Married by America."

The program, aired in April, 2003, involved a bunch of strangers who agreed to get engaged and married so they could be on TV. The fine, however, was not based on any apparent violation of the sanctity of marriage, but for hijinks from the "Las Vegas bachelor and bachelorette parties" thrown for the two couples left standing.

Fox contended that it edited out the nasty bits, but the FCC wasn't having it.

"The episode includes scenes in which party-goers lick whipped cream from strippers' bodies in a sexually suggestive manner. Another scene features a man on all fours in his underwear as two female strippers playfully spank him," the FCC's Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) stated. "Although the episode electronically obscures any nudity, the sexual nature of the scenes is inescapable, as the strippers attempt to lure party-goers into sexually compromising situations."

The fine breaks down to $7,000 for 169 Fox affiliates, 14 of which belong to Fox. In the Super Bowl case, affiliates were held harmless because the show was live and the FCC determined that they couldn't have anticipated the sudden appearance of a naked breast.

"This program, in contrast, was a taped episode in a taped series, and the affiliates could have preempted it, as at least one affiliate did," the NAL said.

The show aired at 8 p.m., two hours before "safe harbor" kicks in, kids are presumably in bed, and whip-cream licking is allowed. Fox maintains the material was not indecent, but had taken no formal action to challenge the fine as of press time.

The NAL states that the FCC received a total of 159 complaints about "Married by America," but Parents TV Council chief Brent Bozell claimed that the PTC alone filed 25 times that number. The PTC ramped up its campaign against TV and radio sleaze after last January's Super Bowl breast-reveal event. The organization is now pressuring the FCC to weigh content in its license renewal considerations.

"A fine of $1,183,000 should make Fox and other networks sit up and take notice... This gross violation of the law must be considered by the FCC when it reviews station license renewal requests," Bozell said in a statement.

Meanwhile, legislation to increase indecency fines didn't become law before members of Congress split to stump for their jobs. When an effort to get indecency fine provisions attached to a Defense Department bill failed last week, several senators attempted to introduce legislation the House passed earlier this year that would raise individual fines from a maximum of $27,500 to $500,000. Sources on Capitol Hill said lawmakers were unable to hammer out a compromise on the bill before the Senate blew town Monday. However, the source said the issue is far from dead, and could very well wind up on the inevitable omnibus spending bill that will have to be passed during the lame-duck session in November.

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