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03.20.2006
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
FCC resumes indecency crusade

The FCC has once again come down hard against what it considers racy program content. In last week’s actions, the FCC proposed a $3.6 million fine against 111 CBS stations and affiliates for an episode of the CBS crime drama “Without a Trace” that aired in December 2004.

Officials said the fines, which can be appealed, were intended in part to make clear what type of material is allowed under FCC standards.

In addition to proposing a record total of $3.9 million in new fines, the commission upheld its previous $550,000 fine against CBS stations for Janet Jackson’s now infamous Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction.” As to the Super Bowl fine, CBS said it continued to disagree that the incident was “legally indecent.” The network said it “will continue to pursue all remedies necessary to affirm our legal rights.”

Others fines totaling about $300,000 were proposed, including a $15,000 fine to KCSM-TV in San Mateo, CA, for an episode of a highly acclaimed public television series on blues music by filmmaker Martin Scorsese. The program, “The Blues: Godfathers and Sons,” was cited for its coarse use of language. PBS was also fined for an acclaimed cultural series by one of America’s top filmmakers.

The aggressive indecency decisions may have a chilling effect on television broadcasters, E. Christopher Murray, a civil rights lawyer at Reisman, Peirez & Reisman in Garden City, N.Y., told the New York Times. Jack Goodman, a lawyer who represents broadcasters, told the Los Angeles Times that PBS has already edited episodes of the award-winning program Masterpiece Theatre out of fear of FCC censure.

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