FCC Rethinks Indecency Decision

The FCC asked the court this week to let it take another look at the expletives in its March 15 indecency order. In a filing made with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit on July 5, the commission requested a stay of the briefing schedule on the broadcaster-initiated lawsuit over the order.

The programs in question were punctuated with what the commission termed the "F-word" and the "S-word," and were therefore deemed indecent. The shows include episodes of ABC's "NYPD Blue," "The Early Show" on CBS, and "The Billboard Music Awards" from 2002 and 2003, carried on Fox. Since no fines were levied for the material, the FCC did not follow the usual procedure of issuing a Notice of Apparent Liability and following up with an appeals process. The networks and their affiliates subsequently sought that appeals process through the court; the FCC has now indicated it would like a do-over.

"Today the commission, supported by the ABC, NBC and CBS affiliates, filed a motion for voluntary remand and stay of briefing schedule in Fox Television Stations Inc. versus Federal Communications Commission," read a July 5 statement from FCC spokesman David Fiske. "It did so at the request of broadcasters who complained they did not have the opportunity to be heard by the Commission before it issued its decision in its "Omnibus" order in March. Additionally, the remand would allow the Commission to hear all of the licensees' arguments which is necessary for the broadcasters to make these same arguments before the Court."

Reuters reported that the FCC told the court it would issue a decision within 60 days.

The FCC levied $4.5 million in fines with the March order. A previously proposed fine of $550,000 against CBS over Janet Jackson's Super Bowl flash dance was unanimously upheld. CBS and 111 of its affiliates were also fined $3.6 million for an episode of the crime drama, "Without a Trace." Another $355,000 in fines were levied for six other programs that elicited complaints at specific stations.