WDBJ Gets 2 Allies in Fight With FCC Over Indecency Fine

By Kevin Eck 

Roanoke, Va. CBS affiliate WDBJ now has the Radio Television Digital News Association and the National Association Broadcasting on its side in its fight over a $325,000 fine levied against the station by the FCC in March.

The FCC deemed a clip the station aired “extremely graphic and explicit sexual content” and fined the station the maximum amount it could. The clip was part of a story about a former adult film star who wanted to be a volunteer EMT.

The RTDNA and the NAB both filed comments with the FCC. “Our filing explains the key issues stations have with the FCC’s indecency policy, which is that it is poorly defined and randomly enforced,” said Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director. “In particular, we are concerned about the chilling effect this kind of uncertainly creates for newsrooms until the FCC can adopt a clear and fair approach.”

Here’s a sample from the filing:

Even though (1) the Commission’s current indecency policies have never been approved by any reviewing court, and (2) the Commission has—for over two years—taken no action in a proceeding launched to examine its “broadcast indecency policies and enforcement to ensure that they are fully consistent with vital First Amendment principles,” the Commission here inexplicably exacerbated its constitutionally suspect regulatory approach by proposing the highest indecency fine ever against a single station, which had inadvertently aired a fleeting sexual image in a newscast. Levying the maximum possible fine under the law in a case where the broadcast station indisputably did not purposefully air the image at issue is tantamount to imposing a sentence of life imprisonment for petty theft.

WDBJ parent company Schurz Communications said it plans to appeal the fine.

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