The FCC recently hit Fox Television Network with a $25K fine tied to an episode of American Dad that attracted over 100K complaints. But the fine was not about the program’s content, it was about a procedural matter. A communications legal blogger recently looked between the lines at the message the FCC was really sending.
In essence, as we reported earlier, FTN turned the response to an FCC letter of inquiry over to one of its single-station subsidiaries that happened to be used as an example by the FCC in describing what it was asking about. The subsidiary failed to answer many of the questions.
The FCC was not pleased and soon gave FTN a three day window to make amends, which it failed to do. The fine came next.
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP Scott R. Flick notes a number of interesting points published at its commlawcenter.com.
After a few years in which few FCC indecency proceedings have made it into the public record (most believe due to pending and prolonged court cases, one of which involves the Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident while the other concerns fleeting indecency enforcement), Flick notes the “lightning” pace of FCC moves in this incident.
“Both the speed and severity of the FCC’s response indicate a desire to send a very clear message to licensees that there is a new sheriff in town, and not a very patient one at that,” wrote Flick.
Addressing the extra juice in the fine, which could have been $4K but was jacked up to $25K, Flick said, “This NAL adds an exclamation point to my missive last week about the FCC stepping up its enforcement sanctions to ensure that licensees don’t view them merely as a cost of doing business.”
Finally, in the absence of a response from FTN, the FCC decided to send individual LOIs to all 235 FTN affiliates, whether they are O&Os or not. Flick observed, “The FCC is obviously counting on Fox receiving a firestorm of protests from its affiliates, who now have 30 days to respond to the individual letters of inquiry, which include a request for copies of any complaints about the episode received by the stations themselves.” He added, “Fox affiliates are about to be caught in the crossfire of the next skirmish in the indecency battle between the FCC and Fox, and they are doubtless not too pleased about it.”