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FCC fines TV station for nudity during a news interview

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FCC fines TV station for nudity during a news interview

  • The Federal Communications Commission proposed a $27,500 fine against Young Broadcasting for airing a man’s genitals during a TV news interview in San Francisco.

Jan. 30, 2004 — The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday proposed a fine of $27,500 against Young Broadcasting for an “indecent” act that occurred during a TV news interview with performers from the comedy stage show “Puppetry of the Penis.”

Created in Australia in 1998, the show involves men twisting their genitals into such shapes as animals, food and people.

It is only the second time the FCC has ever fined a TV broadcast, according to one of the commissioners.

KRON-TV in San Francisco, which is owned by Young Broadcasting, conducted a live interview in October 2002 with two Puppetry performers. During the interview, a cameraman panned down to performer David Friend’s genitals, which were exposed.

KRON General Manager Paul Dinovitz said the visual lasted less than a second, and called the incident an accident. The station immediately apologized on the air to viewers.

“It’s unfortunate,” Dinovitz said, in a Jan. 28 article in The San Francisco Chronicle. “It happened, and we’re very sorry about it.”

Nonetheless, the FCC ruling called the broadcast “pandering, titillating and shocking,” and suggested that the hosts of the news program urged the performers to demonstrate some of what “Puppetry of the Penis” entails.

Young Broadcasting publicly refuted the fine’s validity, citing a lack of intent due to the station’s reaction following the incident. Lawyers for Young Broadcasting also compared the visual to nudity in Stephen Spielberg’s 1991 film “Schindler’s List,” which included full-frontal nudity and has been aired on network TV stations.

The FCC’s proposed fine can be appealed within 30 days, but Dinovitz told the Chronicle that he intends to pay the fine. Young Broadcasting did not return repeated phone messages seeking comment.

Attorney Kathy Kirby, who represents clients in the broadcasting business, said the FCC needs to be careful about interfering with a news station’s freedom of choice.

“The FCC’s indecency standard is very difficult to apply,” said Kirby, of Wiley, Rein and Fielding in Washington, D.C. “Indecency can extend to other forms, and in this case, it seems like it might be an attempt to interfere with the television station’s editorial discretion.”

(FCC 04-16, File No. EB-02-IH-0786) LH

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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