PTC Pushes Senators to Seek FCC Answers on TV Ratings

The Parents Television Council has been pushing members of the Senate Commerce Committee to quiz FCC commissioners on the status of indecency enforcement and TV ratings.

The committee is holding an FCC oversight hearing Sept. 15, with all five commissioners slated to testify.

PTC said it has been meeting with members of the committee and wanted them to press the commissioners on two points: 1) the status of the $325,000 indecency fine levied against WDBJ-TV Roanoke and the status of the TV ratings system.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler should have a ready answer for the first.

An FCC spokesperson confirms that WDBJ has paid the indecency fine levied by the commission in March 2015, though not whether it paid the full price, a record $325,000.

The station challenged the fine the following June, but the spokesperson confirmed that the fine had been paid—they did not say when it had been paid—and the matter closed.

Then owner Schurz Communications was selling the station to Gray Television, so settling would make sense as a way to clear the decks for approval of that deal.

The FCC back in March 2015 proposed the $325,000 fine (the maximum) on WDBJ-TV for airing a brief video clip, albeit of a sexual organ, which the station said was inadvertently included in a story about a former adult film star working for the local rescue squad.

In illustrating the story, the station used footage from an adult website and, due to "equipment limitations," nobody saw the small, erect sexual organ at the extreme margin of the screen, said the station, which made it onto the image in a story for the 6 p.m. news.

Back in May, in response to a letter from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) about content issues, Wheeler said that the FCC had "recently" imposed the maximum allowable forfeiture against television station WDBJ Roanoke Virginia, apparently a reference to the paying of that fine.

Wheeler in the letter to Smith also pointed to the TV ratings/V-chip technology as a way consumers can "take their own action against unwanted content."

"The Commission will continue to take complaints about obscene or indecent broadcasts seriously," he told Smith. "And we will continue to take appropriate action in cases where families and children have been exposed to indecent and obscene content."

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.