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FCC proposes record indecency fine of $775,000

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting    

FCC proposes record indecency fine of $775,000

  • Clear Channel Broadcasting was notified Tuesday that it may be fined for airing “indecent” material in 2001 on the “Bubba the Love Sponge” radio program.

Jan. 29, 2004 — The Federal Communications Commission Tuesday proposed a record fine of $775,000 against Clear Channel Broadcasting for airing “indecent” material in 2001 on the “Bubba the Love Sponge” radio program in Florida.

The broadcasts concerned conversation about drugs, and sexually explicit material.

The FCC proposed a maximum fine of $27,500 for each of 26 violations it said occurred over the course of seven broadcasts in 2001. The FCC also added an additional $40,000 proposed fine for “failure to maintain certain required documents” in the stations’ public inspection files.

The 26 broadcasts were intended to “pander to, titillate and shock listeners,” and involved “graphic and explicit sexual and/or excretory material,” according to a statement by the FCC announcing the intended fines. The radio broadcasts aired in four Florida cities: Callahan, Clearwater, Port Charlotte and West Palm Beach.

Although “obscene” material may never be broadcast, the FCC must permit broadcast of “indecent” material except between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. when children are likely to be in the audience.

“It should come as little surprise that this Commission’s indecency enforcement has dwarfed its predecessors,” FCC Chairman Michael Powell said.

“[O]ver the last three years, we have proposed nearly twice the dollar amount of indecency fines than the previous two Commissions combined. . . . Now is not the time, however, to rest on our laurels.”

Powell issued his statement a day before lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on telecommunications were scheduled to meet and discuss the FCC’s proposed fine increases. In a Jan. 14 address to the National Press Club, Powell called for the current maximum fine for indecency to be increased tenfold, to $275,000 per incident.

That proposal came on the heels of a controversial FCC decision not to fine TV stations that aired U2 musician Bono’s comment accepting an award at the January 2003 Golden Globe Ceremony. The singer said, “This is really, really fucking brilliant.”

The FCC announced that since “fucking” was not uttered in a sexual context and was only meant to highlight a point, it was not indecent speech. However, after numerous protests from family advocacy groups and a proposed “Clean Airwaves” bill from Rep. Doug Ose — that bill would unconditionally ban eight words and phrases from the airwaves — Powell asked the commission to overturn its prior ruling on Bono’s speech. That decision is pending.

Clear Channel President and CEO Mark Mays said in a press release that the abstract nature of “indecency” is largely the problem. He added that the broadcasting industry should police itself, rather than the FCC doling out massive fines.

“Indecency is not a simple concept,” Mays said. “Congress, the FCC and the courts have all struggled to define it for years.

“The time has come,” he added, “for every sector of the media to join together and develop consistent standards that are in tune with local community values.”

(FCC 04-17, Notice of Apparent Liability; File No. EB-02-IH-0261) LH

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© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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