CBS’s KUTV-TV SLC license at risk


Andrea Gutton and Sharilee Guest have objected to the license renewal of KUTV-TV in Salt Lake City, owned by a subsidiary of CBS Broadcasting (the sale of the station, along with several others, to TV Stations Acquisition LLC, a subsidiary of Cerberus Capital Management, is pending). It all goes back to an episode of "Without a Trace" which aired 12/31/04 and drew an FCC notice of apparent liability, about a month after CBS/Viacom had entered into a consent decree with the FCC which cleared the books of numerous indecency-related charges.

As part of the decree, CBS was to suspend and investigate any employees involved in an incident involving indecent broadcasting and if necessary, provide remedial training. In order to complete the record before ruling on the license challenge, the FCC is seeking information from CBS on just what action it took in this case. CBS has been protesting the "Without a Trace" NAL, noting that most of the public outcry came some two weeks after the episode aired as part of a Parents Television Council/American Family Association email blitz. CBS has argued that levying fines on this basis essentially licenses an organization to eliminate any program they want simply by mounting a similar Internet campaign against it.

SmartMedia observation: For starters, you'd think the FCC, upon issuing an NAL that falls under terms of a consent decree, would look into the matter of its own volition without any prompting from a pair of citizens from Utah. That said, we've seen licenses challenged time and again, but we rarely see licenses challenged successfully. Is this going to be a morality tale about the dangers of entering into a consent decree in order to avoid a costly fight you think you can win, or will it disappear down the rabbit hole like so many other similar challenges? Stay tuned.