NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · WASHINGTON, D.C. · Broadcasting · Nov. 7, 2006
FCC drops two indecency charges, upholds two
Nov. 7, 2006 · The Federal Communications Commission on Monday revised its decision about two television programs it had found to be indecent and profane, but maintained that two others violated regulations.
The four programs — the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards, “NYPD Blue” and “The Early Show” — were found indecent in a March order issued by the commission.
CBS, FOX and NBC filed for judicial review, asserting that the commission had “violated the statutory and regulatory prohibitions against airing indecent and profane material.”
The broadcasters complained the commission did not adhere to the process that “ordinarily provides broadcasters with an opportunity to file responses and raise arguments before imposing forfeiture liability.”
In September, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York (2nd Cir.) sent the case back to the commission so it could “take a fresh look” at the programs. The appeals court maintained the ban on the words “fuck” and “shit” during primetime TV, as they were found indecent under a previous ruling.
As a result of this new review, the FCC dropped the indecency charge against the program “NYPD Blue.” The commission received complaints about the word “bullshit,” which appeared in several episodes of the show.
The FCC said that the word usage was indecent but dropped the charges as a result of procedural technicality. Although the show aired in some time zones at 9 p.m., the actual complaints were filed by viewers in markets where the show aired at 10 p.m. – outside the 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. “safe harbor” window. Broadcasters are given more leeway with programs that do not air during that time period because it is assumed children will not be watching.
The commission classified “The Early Show” as a news interview and as a result, said the use of the word “bullshitter” by a Survivor contestant was considered neither profane or indecent. The complaint was dismissed.
The two Billboard Music Awards programs did not receive relief in the commission’s reconsideration and will now return to court over the findings.
In reviewing its earlier decisions, the FCC reconfirmed that it considers the usage of the words “fuck” and “shit” to be profane and indecent under almost any circumstance.
Cher used the phrase “fuck ’em” in her award acceptance at the 2002 Billboard Music Awards ceremony. In the 2003 awards program, Nicole Richie said while presenting an award, “Have you ever tried to get cow shit out of a Prada purse? It’s not so fucking simple.”
(In the Matter of Complaints Regarding Various Television Broadcasts Between February 2, 2002 and March 8, 2005) — HS