FCC Fines 13 Fox Stations for 2003 Episode of Married by America

Saying that its indecency standard is not vague, the Federal Communications Commission Friday issued a forfeiture order against 13 Fox stations for a 2003 airing of Married by America that showed some pixilated body parts of bachelor-party revelers.

The FCC is fining them $7,000 apiece, or a total of $91,000.

"Fox strongly disagrees with the commission’s conclusions in the notice and we will be actively considering our options," the network said Friday. Those could include paying the fine and nothing more (highly unlikely); paying the fine and taking the FCC to court, as ABC did with a similar forfeiture order issued last week; or refusing to pay the fine and forcing the Justice Department to try and make it do so.

The fine was initially $1.18 million against 169 stations, but the FCC wound up only fining the handful of stations where complaints had actually been filed in that market per a new policy, calling it part of its "appropriately restrained enforcement policy."

The FCC said the parties constituted sexual activities and depicted sexual organs, even if they were blurred.

"While it is true that the nude female breasts and buttocks shown were pixilated," the agency added, "the commission never held that the full exposure of sexual or excretory organs is required to satisfy the first prong of the broadcast-indecency standard."

The commission conceded that pixilation did make the scenes less graphic, just not sufficiently less to keep them from being patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards.

The FCC gave Fox stations 30 days to pay up. It is running up against a five-year statue of limitations on collecting indecency fines and while its profanity enforcement is in limbo, it appears to be flexing its muscle on the nudity front.

The fine was leveled against three Fox-owned stations and affiliates owned by a variety of entities including Meredith Broadcasting Group and Journal Broadcast Group. Sunbeam Television, which already paid its fine, asked for a refund, according to the FCC.

Jim Dyke, executive director of TV Watch, renewed the group's pitch for parents rather than regulators overseeing content.

“Americans continue to believe that parents -- and not the government -- should control television programming in the home. And in fact, parents do take charge of their children's television-viewing -- by monitoring programs, observing ratings, setting parental controls and using technology like DVRs [digital-video recorders] and products like DVDs," he said. "Meanwhile, our government continues to usurp the role of parents by responding to activists’ 'Astroturf' campaigns intended to inflate complaints using duplicate submissions and recruiting people who don't even bother to view the programs they complain about. The result is millions in fines against local TV stations and reduced programming choices for all Americans.”

TV Watch was launched by media companies in 2005 to lobby for the V-chip/ratings system in the hands of parents as the best solution to controlling TV content.

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.