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FCC Plans Fines in Broadcast Indecency Cases

By Steven Levingston and Arshad Mohammed
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Federal Communications Commission plans to levy fines against broadcasters or their affiliates for violating decency standards in about a half-dozen cases, people familiar with the matter said yesterday.

In one case, the FCC is expected to rule against News Corp.'s Fox for an incident in which actress Nicole Richie uttered the vulgar term for excrement, a finding that may dissuade broadcasters from airing the term even in isolated instances.

The sources, who spoke on condition that they not be named because the decisions are not yet public, said the FCC was expected to find that companies including CBS, Fox and NBC or their affiliates had violated decency standards in a total of about a dozen cases. Of these, about half will involve fines but none will approach the record $3.5 million settlement with Viacom Inc. over complaints about radio talk show host Howard Stern.

The pending fines were reported yesterday by Bloomberg News.

Kevin J. Martin, who took over from Michael K. Powell as FCC chairman in March, has indicated he plans to take a tougher stand and quicker action on decency violations.

He said in November that he was working to shorten the time it takes to review and decide on decency complaints, a process that typically takes more than a year.

The FCC also is expected to announce that it found that indecency complaints in more than two dozen other cases were without merit.

As part of its action, the FCC will uphold a 2004 decision to fine CBS stations a total of $550,000 for showing Janet Jackson's exposed breast during the Super Bowl halftime show in February of that year.

Its finding against News Corp.'s Fox dates to the 2003 live broadcast of the Billboard Music Awards in which Richie uttered two obscenities.

CBS and Fox declined to comment on the matter, as did an FCC spokesman. NBC could not be immediately reached for comment.

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