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Indiana TV Says FCC Fine Was Misplaced

Has an Indiana TV station been caught up in the federal crackdown on TV indecency because the FCC can't tell time?

WSBT South Bend, Ind., was one of more than 100 CBS affiliates fined $32,500 apiece for airing an episode of crime drama Without a Trace that depicted hormone-crazed teens writhing in various stages of undress for a casual afternoon orgy.

The episode, which aired Dec. 31, 2004, was perfectly decent for East Coast stations-Trace's 10 p.m. time slot is within the FCC's "safe harbor" for indecency (10 p.m. to 6 a.m.). But it was a prime time no-no for stations in Midwest and Mountain states that air the show at 9 p.m.

But much of Indiana defies the switch to daylight savings time and stays on Central Time only half the year.

In a letter sent to the commission last Thursday, an attorney representing WSBT owner Schurz Communications, explained that on the date in question, "most of Indiana - including South Bend - was not in the Central Time Zone, but instead followed Eastern Time." Indeed, the WSBT's log shows that the Trace episode aired at 10 p.m., not 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, a broadcasting lobbyist says LIN Television's Terre Haute station, WTHI-TV, will probably protest its own "notice of apparent liability" on the same grounds (though station executives could not be reached for confirmation).

FCC spokesman David Fiske points out that the fines are only proposals and that, essentially, WSBT is just taking the next step in the process, which is to explain why it thinks the proposed fine is off-base.

Fiske points out there is precedent for the FCC deciding not to proceed with a fine after hearing the station's explanation.--John Eggerton contributed to this report