Fox Television suffers collateral damage during FCC probe


A January broadcast of an episode of “American Dad” provoked the submission of over 100K indecency complaints to the FCC, and although a decision on that matter isn’t even close to being issued, Fox Television Network has had the book thrown at it for failing to respond to an FCC Letter of Inquiry.

The episode aired 1/3/10. The FCC fired off its LOI to Fox Television Stations Inc. on 1/21/10, and said that as a courtesy, it included a redacted example of a typical complaint that was directed at KDFW-TV, a Fox O&O in Dallas-Ft. Worth licensed to Fox subsidiary NW Communications of Texas Inc.

The NOI wanted information on whether or not the programming mentioned in the complaints aired as stated, and on which stations, both those licensed to Fox Television (News Corporation) and those owned by another company but affiliated with the Fox Television Network and as such had contracted to air the program. It also asked a few other questions.

Fox Television never responded to the inquiry. The licensee of KDFW, NW Communications, did respond, but said that it did not need to answer the first three questions until they were made aware that O&Os and affiliated stations were specifically mentioned in a complaint.

The FCC specifically contacted Fox Television by letter on 3/19/10 and again did not receive a response from that particular entity.

The FCC strongly disagreed that NW had the right to pick and choose which questions it answered, saying that it had broad powers to investigate possible rules violations. And it said that NW had no business answering the FCC’s LOI on Fox’s behalf – which, moreover, it never explained it was doing in the first place.

Failure to respond to an LOI normally carries a $4K fine. The FCC had a lot to say about that.

“We find that Fox’s failure to respond to the Bureau’s inquiries in the circumstances presented here warrants a significant increase from the base forfeiture amount.  Misconduct of this type exhibits contempt for the Commission’s authority and threatens to compromise the Commission’s ability to adequately investigate violations of its rules.  Prompt and full responses to Bureau inquiry letters are essential to the Commission’s enforcement function.  In this case, Fox’s apparent violation has delayed our investigation, caused the Commission to expend additional, significant resources to send individual LOIs to 235 Fox-owned or affiliated stations, and inhibited our ability to examine allegations raised in viewers’ indecency complaints.  We further note that Fox failed to provide a full and complete response even after receiving the March 19th Letter.  For these reasons, we find that Fox’s misconduct was egregious and justifies an upward adjustment.”

The FCC said this serves as notice that other large profitable companies may not consider dealing with the Commission to be optional, with fines accepted as an expense. To ensure that a proposed forfeiture is a deterrent, and not simply a cost of doing business, the Commission has determined that large or highly-profitable companies such as Fox may be subject to proposed forfeitures that are substantially above the base forfeiture amount.”

The FCC described Fox’s misconduct in this case as “egregious,” and jacked the fine up to $25K.

RBR-TVBR observation: If nothing else, this action demonstrates that indecency cases are starting to move behind the scenes at the FCC’s home in The Portals in SW Washington DC.