FCC in Split Decision

NEW YORK The Federal Communications Commission has upheld indecency findings issued in March for two cases, but tossed out the findings for two others.

Profanities uttered by participants during the 2002 and 2003 broadcasts of the Billboard Music Awards were found to be “indecent and profane.” In contrast, the FCC found that the broadcast of the “s-word” during The Early Show was neither indecent nor profane because it occurred during news programming. As for the indecency complaint against NYPD Blue episodes, the FCC dismissed the charges on procedural grounds.

Despite the new findings, the FCC imposed no fines on Fox for the Billboard broadcasts. (Billboard and Adweek are owned by VNU.)

“Hollywood continues to argue they should be able to say the f-word on television whenever they want. Today, the commission again disagrees,” said FCC chairman Kevin Martin, about the FCC’s order responding to the remand by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The findings suggest that the FCC will consider context when ruling on indecency.

“It is oftentimes difficult to distinguish between true news programming and infotainment. While I found the interview with a contestant on Survivor: Vanuatu to be extremely close to that line, I believe the commission’s exercise of caution with respect to news programming was appropriate in this instance,” Martin said.

Others didn’t find the indecency line so clear.

“[The] decision reinforces the lack of consensus, transparency and clarity that have plagued government efforts to play parent,” said Jim Dyke, executive director of TV Watch, which advocates parental controls of television programming. “Government officials should spend more time helping parents understand the information available to make smart decisions and the technology available to enforce those decisions, rather than trying to make the decisions for all of us.”

The TV networks through the courts aren’t through questioning the legality of the FCC’s decisions.

“We look forward to court review, and the clarity we hope it will bring to this area of the law,” said Scott Grogin, a representative at Fox.