FCC levies nudity fine against 52 ABC affiliates

The FCC, not backing off on its indecency campaign, has fined ABC and its affiliate stations a total of $1.43 million for showing a woman’s bare buttocks on its syndicated show “NYPD Blue.”

The fine proposal comes as much of the regulatory criteria the FCC uses to fine stations is under judicial review by several federal courts.

“Our action today should serve as a reminder to all broadcasters that Congress and American families continue to be concerned about protecting children from harmful material and that the FCC will enforce the laws of the land vigilantly,” commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate wrote in a statement accompanying the fine notice.

“In fact, pursuant to the Broadcast Decency Act of 2005, Congress increased the maximum authorized fines tenfold. The law is simple. If a broadcaster makes the decision to show indecent programming, it must air between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. This is neither difficult to understand nor burdensome to implement,” Taylor Tate said.

The FCC ruled that the Feb. 25, 2003, episode of the ABC program “NYPD Blue,” in which a nude woman played by actress Charlotte Ross is surprised by a young boy as she prepares to shower, is too much for prime-time broadcast TV.

“We find that the programming at issue is within the scope of our indecency definition because it depicts sexual organs and excretory organs — specifically an adult woman’s buttocks,” the FCC wrote. “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 levied the maximum fine it could at the time against ABC and then multiplied the $27,500 fine by the 52 ABC stations that aired the episode.

“’NYPD Blue,’ which aired on ABC from 1993-2005, was an Emmy Award-winning drama, broadcast with appropriate parental warnings as well as V-chip-enabled program ratings from the time such ratings were implemented,” ABC said.

“When the brief scene in question was telecast almost five years ago, this critically acclaimed drama had been on the air for a decade and the realistic nature of its storylines was well known to the viewing public. ABC feels strongly that the FCC’s finding is inconsistent with prior precedent from the commission, the indecency statute and the First Amendment, and we intend to oppose the proposed fine,” the network said.