FCC, CBS consent to skate around indecency


CBS Corporation will get a renewal for KUTV-TV CBS/2 in Salt Lake City, despite complaints of airing indecent material subsequent to a consent decree inked in 2004 resulting in a 3.5M payment to the US Treasury. The cost: another 300K tied to another consent decree.

As is typical in consent decrees, CBS admitted no wrongdoing, but agreed to make a "donation" to Uncle Sam and promised to engage in an educational program to assure that its employees do not go down the same questionable avenues again.

But CBS stations were nailed with an NAL in 2006 for airing an episode of "Without a Trace" deemed to contain apparent indecent material. That in turn led to an objection to the renewal of the license for KUTV from Andrea Gutton and Sharilee Guest. CBS disputed the finding of the NAL, saying that "…it had presented nothing indecent and that none of its employees had done anything wrong." It later added that "it was not readily apparent" that certain portions of the earlier consent decree "might apply in the context of scripted shows such as ‘Without a Trace.’"

Although it still does not admit to indecency, CBS acknowledged it may have inadvertently failed to live up to the remedial portion of the earlier agreement, leading to the latest 300K consent decree. Again, there is no finding of wrong-doing, and the license renewal for the station is granted.

TVBR/RBR observation: There has not been a meaningful indecency finding since the maximum price tag went up to 350K. While many have pointed out to the chilling effect the new max has had on programming, others have noted that it may also chill the FCC’s willingness to take it out of the box and actually use it. At some point there will probably be another Janet Jackson type incident that gets the full focus of the national media spotlight, and the enforcement issue will come front and center. But how many more small indiscretions will be allowed those who have signed these decrees? Stay tuned.