FCC Fines ABC Affiliates $1.43 Million

The FCC last week leveled a $1.43 million fine against ABC and its affiliates for showing a woman’s rear end in a February 2003 episode of NYPD Blue.

The fine was issued against the network and 52 ABC stations in the Central and Mountain Standard Time zones, where the show was aired during safe harbor--6 a.m. to 10 p.m., the hours when children are most likely to be watching TV. Affiliates in the Pacific and Eastern times zones aired the show after 10 p.m., and were therefore not fined.

Each station was fined $27,500, the maximum allowed at the time of the telecast. In early 2006, Congress bumped the maximum fine up to $325,000, which would add up to nearly $17 million for the derrière, exposed during a shower scene.

“Although ABC argues, without citing any authority, that the buttocks are not a sexual organ, we reject this argument, which runs counter to both case law and common sense,” the FCC notice states. The commission defends its decision using the three-part test to determine indecency--community standards, repeated or persistent focus on sexual or excretory material; and an intention to titillate or shock. The FCC determined that the incident in question met all three criteria.

ABC said it would fight the FCC’s ruling.

Nearly two years ago, the commission levied a total of $4.5 million in fines for broadcast indecency violations, including the use of expletives and the exposure of Janet Jackson’s breast during the CBS telecast of the Super Bowl in 2004. Networks fought the fines in federal courts. One threw out the fines levied for curse words; the FCC appealed to the Supreme Court, which hasn’t yet decided if it would hear the case. A ruling on the $550,000 Super Bowl fine remains pending.