DOJ sues Fox over indecency fines


Well, it looks like the government is doing just what News Corp.’s Fox Broadcasting had recently dared them to do: “Make us pay.” DOJ sued Fox Broadcasting and Sinclair Broadcast Group Friday to collect 56,000 in fines for the airing of Fox’s 2003 "Married by America" reality show that included the "thrusting of a male stripper’s crotch into a woman’s face" in one show (including  other scenes) the Justice Dept. found objectionable, according to the filing.

In October of 2004, the FCC issued a 7,000 fine against 169 Fox-affiliated stations totaling 1.2 million. Fox challenged the action and last month the FCC dropped the complaints against all but 13 stations, because there were viewer complaints against them. The move lowered the fine to 91,000. Fox still said it wouldn’t pay because the FCC’s decision was "arbitrary and capricious, inconsistent with precedent and patently unconstitutional."

Fox appealed again, but on Friday, the FCC returned without consideration its claim, saying it was 14 pages over the limit. Fox dubbed the FCC decision "offensive." As the FCC put it, "Petitioners acknowledge that their Petition for Reconsideration exceeds the applicable page limits for summaries and petitions for reconsideration set forth in the Commission’s rules, and ask for a waiver of those page limits." So in partial answer to the "who knew" question we can say that Fox knew. But Fox did not allow enough lead time for the waiver request, nor did it bother to explain why it was so wordy.

Since the FCC’s February action, four stations have paid the fine and another station was dropped because no complaint was filed against it, leaving eight stations and 56,000 in fines. Five of the eight stations are O&O’s by Fox, three are owned by Sinclair. DOJ also brought suit in Iowa, West Virginia and Tennessee.

Said Fox spokesman Scott Grogin: "We look forward to the opportunity to present the full factual and legal arguments in the Married by America case to an impartial and open court of law."
The stations still subject to the fine are in Washington, D.C., Kansas City, Tampa, Detroit, Des Moines, Minneapolis, Nashville and Charleston WV.

RBR/TVBR observation: Good for Fox. They knew this would happen, but find it worthwhile enough to establish precedents now that might keep this unpredictable and unfair Commission at bay. Other broadcasters and networks, we’re sure, are thanking them as well.