FCC Doesn't Want To Get Behind In Process

The talk around Washington legal circles Tuesday–from people who have talked to people–was that the FCC was trying this week to release a forfeiture order for the stations fined for the bare behind episode of NYPD Blue. That means it would be denying the various appeals of that fine and issuing essentially a final payment notice.

The FCC proposed fining the 52 stations $27,500 apiece ($1.4 million total), the maximum fine for the Feb. 25, 2003 violation, giving the stations until Feb. 11 to pay up, which they didn’t, instead appealing the decision.

If the forfeiture order does come out this week, it would be in record time given that the fine proposal was only issued Jan. 25, its fast-tracking of the process is understandable, however. There is a five-year statute of limitations on an FCC action to collect an unpaid forfeiture. Although there is some disagreement on when that statute of limitations is triggered, one school of thought is that it is from the date of the offense, which means that Feb. 25, 2008 would mark five years and possibly imperil the FCC’s ability to collect from the stations.

Even if the FCC comes out with the order Wednesday, it would only be giving the stations another three business days to pay before they qualified as failing to pay. I’m told that the customary window is 30 days once all FCC appeals have been exhausted, which they would have been once the forfeiture order is voted out.

This all comes as the Supreme Court at the end of the month could decide whether or not to hear Fox’s appeal of the FCC’s fleeting profanity crackdown, which a lower court shot down as arbitrary and capricious.

And if that weren’t enough content-regulation excitement for one month, the Third Circuit Court’s decision on CBS’ appeal of the Janet Jackson Super Bowl fine could come out any day now,  though nobody is going to make any money trying to bet when an Appeals Court is going to rule, said one veteran court watcher.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.