The FCC and Fox Television Network are in the midst of a set-to over a 1/3/10 episode of “American Dad” that has thus far resulted in a $25K notice of apparent liability. Fox is saying that the FCC is overstepping its bounds. Meanwhile, the Parents Television Council says that Fox is in possession of astounding arrogance.
“The degree of arrogance in Fox’s behavior is simply astounding,” stated PTC President Tim Winter. “The network has refused to provide information about an explicit episode of ‘American Dad’ to the sole government agency responsible for enforcing the broadcast decency law. While that is contemptible enough, now Fox has the audacity to try to skirt a fine that was proposed simply because it didn’t provide the information the FCC requested.”
To recap, the FCC sent a notice of inquiry to Fox regarding the episode, which drew over 100K indecency complaints, asking, among other things, for a list of all O&Os and affiliates of the network which most likely aired the program in question. As a “courtesy,” the FCC sent an example of a complaint that referred directly to Fox O&O KDFW-TV in Dallas-Ft. Worth.
Management at KDFW rather than at the network responded to the LOI, and stated that they were unable to answer some of the questions, including provision of the affiliate list.
The FCC hit Fox with the $25K NAL for failure to respond, jacking up the base fine of $4K due to the company’s “egregious” behavior.
KDFW, licensed to NW Communications, had said that it was not required to respond to certain FCC inquiries, noting that according to FCC precedent, only stations specifically implicated in the complaints were vulnerable to FCC action. NWC said that other Fox stations, O&O or not, were not required to respond unless that was the case.
Winter had more to say about Fox, a popular target for his organization. “In a ridiculous effort to deflect blame, Fox also accused the FCC of causing a chilling effect on free speech due to pending indecency investigations. Anyone who has watched Fox recently knows that statement is patently false. Viewers need to look no further than the Seth MacFarlane animated program block every Sunday on Fox to realize there is no such ‘chilling’ effect.”
Winter agreed with Fox on one thing: that the FCC takes too long to process indecency cases.
RBR-TVBR observation: Conventional wisdom on the lapse in indecency enforcement is that the FCC has backed off temporarily as cases involving the Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident and the FCC’s ability to punish the occurrence of fleeting expletives have wended their way through the courts, with mixed results.
And indeed, the indecency complaint and enforcement statistics on the FCC website come to an abrupt halt at the midway point of 2006.
The two issues pending before the courts are relatively narrow. The battle over the totality of the indecency enforcement regime hasn’t even been joined yet. Many broadcasters firmly believe that the standards of indecency are so malleable, and the possibility of six-digit fines and loss of licenses are so extreme, that a full-blown trial of the current indecency enforcement process would never survive court scrutiny, although that is far from a settled issue.
At any rate, the immediate Fox/FCC altercation isn’t about the content of the particular episode of “American Dad,” it’s about the process involved in what is merely a potential enforcement proceeding. That tells us that we have still have a long way to go before the issue of what is and is not indecent is settled.