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'Trace' in Eye of the Storm

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WASHINGTON Virtually none of those who complained to the Federal Communications Commission about the drama Without a Trace actually saw the episode in question, CBS affiliates said as they asked the agency to rescind its proposed record indecency fine of $3.3 million.

All of the 4,211 e-mailed complaints came from Web sites operated by the Parents Television Council and the American Family Association, the stations said in a filing on Monday.

In only two of the e-mails did those complaining say they had watched the program, and those two apparently refer to a "brief, out-of-context segment" of the episode that was posted on the Parents Television Council's Web site, the affiliates' filing said.

"There were no true complainants from actual viewers," the stations said. To be valid, complaints must come from an actual viewer in the service area of the station at issue, the filing said.

"The e-mails were submitted . . . because advocacy groups hoping to influence television content generally exhorted them to contact the commission," the CBS stations said.

L. Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council, said, "Everything the PTC has said is accurate.

"Every complaint filed comes from a United States citizen who, last I heard, had the constitutional privilege to petition his government," Bozell said. "Rather than these stupid legal maneuvers, CBS and Viacom should spend time pondering why it's wrong to broadcast scenes of teen orgies in front of millions of children."

About 8.2 million people saw the Dec. 31, 2004 broadcast, which was a repeat of an earlier airing of the same episode that drew no indecency complaints. E-mails about the episode began arriving at the FCC on Jan. 12, the same day the PTC sent an alert to its members, the CBS stations said.

The FCC in proposing the fines of $32,500 upon each of 103 CBS stations said they had "broadcast material graphically depicting teenage boys and girls participating in a sexual orgy."

CBS stations said the episode included flashbacks aimed at portraying risky behavior that showed actors in "sexually suggestive positions" but without nudity or coarse language.

Monetary stakes for indecency findings are about to heighten considerably. Congress last week gave its final approval for increasing the potential penalty tenfold, to $325,000. The change will not affect fines already proposed by the FCC.