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CBS Affils: Retract Trace Fine

CBS affiliated TV stations have asked the FCC to rescind its fine against them for airing drama Without a Trace.

In a supplement, filed Tuesday, to their earlier challenge of the multimillion-dollar FCC fine, the stations argue that there were "no true complaints from actual viewers following the [December 2004] broadcast"--they instead say the complaints came after the complainants saw a clip on the Internet. The stations also argue that the complaints were not filed from the markets where the stations aired the show.

The FCC said at the same time it proposed the fines against the show March 15--for a brief scene of a teen sex party--that it was also now only going to accept complaints against a station if they came from its market.
The filing was not made with the affiliates' other filing and the CBS network-owned stations oppositions to the proposed mulitimillion-dollar fine because the FCC did not produce the results of a FOIA request for the indecency complaints until May 5, the same day of the filing deadline.
"Maybe it was a coincidence," says Curt Wimmer of Covington & Burling, who filed the supplement to the stations' original opposition.
Almost all the indecency complaints were filed through the Web sites of the Parent's Television Council and the American Family Association.

Wimmer points out that the commission's original March 15 order proposing the fine--against an episode featuring a brief scene of a teen sex party--suggested a "groundswell of concern about the program."

Had that been the case, he argues,  one would have expected complaints to immediately have followed the show's Dec, 31, 2004 airing.
According to analysis of the complaints, he said, there were none for two weeks following the show. A total of 17 viewers to 93 stations covering 43 million homes called to complain, but did not file complaints with the FCC, he said.
It was only after Parent's Television Council put out an e-lert asking members to complain that the complaints started coming in, he says.
"PTC members were motivated by the e-mail," he said. "They did not see the program, which ought to be an essential element of any complaint."
Wimmer says that a handful of the "complaints" even turned out to be supportive of the show, with the e-mailers filling in the "reason for the complaint" portion with statements like "abridgement of my First Amendment rights. Let the programs air."
The complaints were filed against 93 of 95 CBS affiliates fined. The other two were Pappas stations that filed separately, as did the CBS-owned stations.

“Everything the PTC has said is accurate," said PTC President Brent Bozell. "Every complaint filed comes from a United States citizen who, last I heard, still had the constitutional privilege to petition his government.  Rather than these stupid maneuvers, CBS and Viacom should spend time pondering why it’s wrong to broadcast scenes of teenage orgies in front of millions of children."