The FCC ruled that CBS affiliates had no role in planning the live halftime show and could not have known what might happen. In contrast, the agency said, none of the Fox stations declined to broadcast the taped episode and were therefore culpable. The episode was watched by an estimated 388,000 children age 11 and younger, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Yesterday, the FCC said that even though "Married by America" digitally obscured, or "pixelated" exposed breasts, the pixelation "does little to obscure the overtly sexual and gratuitous nature of the bachelor/bachelorette party scenes," the FCC wrote.
The FCC said the six-minute segment included a variety of sexual activities, including a man in his underwear on all fours being spanked by two topless strippers.
Although the nudity was pixelated, "even a child would have known that the strippers were topless and that sexual activity was being shown," the FCC wrote.
Fox took issue with the FCC's characterization of the episode. "We disagree with the FCC's decision and believe the content was not indecent," Fox spokesman Scott Grogin said last night. Fox still has to decide whether to pay the fine or appeal the ruling.
The FCC limited the Fox fine to $7,000 per station, far less than the $32,500 the law allows. Even though the "Married by America" episode was considered tasteless, the FCC sources said, the indecency judgment was less clear-cut in this case than in others that received higher fines.
One Hollywood executive who works in reality television and agreed to talk only anonymously said viewers have more power to shield their children from scheduled television shows than they do from unexpected commercials for R-rated movies or promotions for local news shows that tout "20 dead, five raped, coming up at 11."
"The FCC is wasting time, and they should recognize that as adults we can be responsible for our children. They should monitor things we don't have control over," the executive said. "It's a Fox show, and people should know what they're getting themselves into."
The agency said it received 159 viewer complaints about "Married by America." In 2003, the FCC said it received 240,000 complaints about 390 television shows.