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Capital Watch

Five-Minute Warning on Indecency

TV stations are on notice to begin delaying live programs long enough to edit out any possibly indecent footage, say communications lawyers. In the wake of the FCC's Sept. 22 proposed $550,000 fine against CBS for airing Janet Jackson's breast flash, the commissioners appear to be requiring that stations prepare to cut out any unwanted surprises. In its decision, the FCC said CBS's five-second delay—long enough to expunge cursing or other inappropriate audio—wasn't enough of a precaution.

Although the FCC decided that affiliates not owned by CBS had no chance of predicting Jackson's antics and wouldn't be fined this time, they can't expect similar leniency in the future. "We urge each licensee to take reasonable precautions in the future, such as employing such delay technology to independently prescreen the network feed to prevent the broadcast of indecent programming over its licensed station," the FCC declared in its order.

"The FCC has clearly told stations they must use video delay as well as audio," says First Amendment lawyer Kathleen Kirby. Producers have told her that delays of five minutes are necessary to edit video.

Adelstein Gets a Few More Weeks on the Job

Thanks to the crush of budget bills and other legislation, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein is assured of keeping his post at least a few weeks after the Nov. 2 election. Adelstein's term ended June 2003, but government rules allow him to stay onboard though the end of this congressional term. Typically, Congress adjourns in mid October during election years, but congressional leaders say they plan to bring lawmakers back to Washington in November to wrap up unfinished business.

The extension also improves chances that Adelstein can win a second term on the commission. Although there's little chance Congress will confirm any nominees before the election, chances rise for Congress and the White House to negotiate a slate of appointees for approval after it's clear who the next president will be.

FEC Chief's Ouster From Swift Boat Case Sought

Three campaign-finance advocacy groups are calling on the Federal Election Commission to disqualify agency Chairman Bradley Smith from participating in the commission's review of complaints about Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the organization that funded ads attacking John Kerry's Vietnam service. Smith has prejudged his decision, complained the Campaign Legal Center, the Center for Responsive Politics, and Democracy 21.

Smith "has long demonstrated his hostility to the campaign-finance laws he is charged with enforcing," says Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. "Now he has gone even further and publicly embraced the activities of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth."

Among the comments that have angered the campaign finance advocates was an August Bloomberg News interview in which Smith said, "I think it's great [that] 260 average guys can go out and put their point of view out there before the public and influence a major presidential race."

FCC "Kids' Zone" Too Violent?

Broadcasters may need to shuffle their prime time schedules if the FCC decides to restrict violent programming when children are likely to be watching. The commission might want to take a look in its own backyard before chastising big media players. The FCC's new "Kids' Zone" Web site features an online version of the classic Hangman game. Players are required to spell out the answers from clues. With each incorrect guess, a doomed man hanging from a gallows appears—first the head, then the torso, arms and legs. When an unlucky player runs out of guesses, dangling from a rope is a Freddy Krueger look-alike with skin grayer than a CSI corpse.