- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Federal Communications Commission proposed a record fine of $3.6 million against dozens of CBS stations and affiliates yesterday in a crackdown on what regulators called indecent television programming.

The agency said a network program, “Without a Trace,” that aired in December 2004 was indecent. It cited the graphic depiction of “teenage boys and girls participating in a sexual orgy.”

The proposed fine was among decisions from the agency stemming from more than 300,000 complaints it received concerning nearly 50 TV shows broadcast between 2002 and 2005.

Rejecting an appeal by CBS, the FCC also upheld its previous $550,000 fine against 20 of the network’s stations for the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl in 2004.

Federal regulations bar television and radio broadcast stations from airing obscene material and limit them to airing indecent material such as profanity and sexually explicit content during late-night hours when children are less likely to be in the audience. The FCC does not regulate cable or satellite operations.

Many television and radio broadcasters now use tape-delay to avoid running afoul with the standards.

The fines were the first issued under FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, clearing a backlog of investigations into indecency complaints. The commission issued no fines last year.

“The number of complaints received by the commission has risen year after year,” Mr. Martin said yesterday. “I share the concerns of the public — and of parents, in particular — that are voiced in these complaints.”

Responding to other complaints, the commission found that Fox television network violated decency standards during the 2003 Billboard Music Awards. During the broadcast, actress Nicole Richie uttered two expletives.

“Each of these words is among the most offensive words in the English language,” the FCC said. But it declined to issue a fine against Fox because at the time of the broadcast existing precedent indicated the commission would not take action against isolated use of expletives, the FCC said.

The commission added the expletive for excrement to words that can’t be said on the air. It cited Miss Richie’s comments, an episode of “NYPD Blue” on an affiliate station of ABC and remarks on “The Early Show” aired by a CBS affiliate.

The FCC fined WBDC-TV, Channel 50, $27,500 for broadcasting indecent material during the “Pool Party Episode” of the “The Surreal Life 2” on Feb. 8, 2004, at 9 p.m.

During a 10-minute sequence depicting a party for people in the pornographic movie industry, the episode displayed about 20 pixilated views of various female guests’ nude breasts and one woman’s entire nude body, according to the FCC.

Eric Meyrowitz, WBDC general manager, declined to comment on the fine.

The FCC said Channel 50 was the only station whose viewers complained about the episode.

The commission declined to fine Fox or its stations for the 2002 Billboard Music Awards, in which Cher uttered an expletive.

Mr. Martin, a Republican, has long advocated a tough stand against indecency violators. Before becoming chairman last year, he complained in several cases that the agency should be fining broadcasters based on each offensive utterance, not each program. That way, the FCC could find several violations in a program.

He also is on record supporting legislation to increase the maximum fine an indecency violation could draw. The current maximum is $32,500 per incident, but some lawmakers have called for boosting the penalty to as high as $500,000.

There was overwhelming support for raising fines in the months after the Miss Jackson exposure in 2004, but legislation has fizzled in Congress.

• Staff writer Dan Caterinicchia contributed to this report.

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