FCC Fines WDBJ $325,000 for Indecency

The FCC's Enforcement Bureau, after investigating viewers' complaints that WDBJ Roanoke aired a news report that included graphic sexual images taken from an adult film, plans to fine the Schurz-owned station $325,000, the maximum fine it can levy. The story, about a former adult film star who had joined a local volunteer rescue squad, ran on July 12, 2012.

"Our action here sends a clear signal that there are severe consequences for TV stations that air sexually explicit images when children are likely to be watching," said Travis LeBlanc, chief of the Enforcement Bureau.

The investigation found that station staff obtained an explicit video clip from an adult film website and broadcast the images in the 6 p.m. news.

Said Jeffrey Marks, WDBJ general manager, in a statement:

"We are surprised and disappointed that the FCC has decided to propose to fine WDBJ7 for a fleeting image on the very edge of some television screens during a news broadcast. The story had gone through a review before it aired. Inclusion of the image was purely unintentional. The picture in question was small and outside the viewing area of the video editing screen. It was visible only on some televisions and for less than three seconds."

It is a violation of federal law to air indecent programming from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The FCC defines broadcast indecency as "language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities."

"NAB is disappointed with today's remarkably punitive indecency fine proposed against WDBJ," said Dennis Wharton, NAB executive VP of communications, in a statement. "Schurz Communications apologized for the fleeting image, which was clearly unintended. This unprecedented fine against a family-owned broadcaster with a demonstrated commitment to serving communities is wholly unwarranted."

Michael Malone

Michael Malone is content director at B+C and Multichannel News. He joined B+C in 2005 and has covered network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television, including writing the "Local News Close-Up" market profiles. He also hosted the podcasts "Busted Pilot" and "Series Business." His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The L.A. Times, The Boston Globe and New York magazine.