FCC Proposes $1.4M Fine Against ABC Stations for NYPD Blue

Feb. 25, 2003, Episode Included 'Adult Female Nudity' 1/27/2008 09:20:00 PM Eastern

While the FCC's ability to crack down on swearing and fleeting images may be in limbo, the Federal Communications Commission flexed its muscles Friday in the nudity department after a long hiatus.


The commission late Friday issued a proposed fine totalling almost $1.4 million against 52 ABC affiliates for airing a Feb. 25, 2003, episode of NYPD Blue that included "adult female nudity," specifically a "small portion of one side of her breasts" and a side view of her buttocks, the FCC said, and another scene of her naked from the back. Rather than the fleeting nudity and profanity decisions currently being challenged in court, the FCC said the scene "dwelled" on the nudity and was l"ingering," as well as "shocking and titillating."

The FCC also pointed out that a young boy--it estimated seven or eight--was also in the scene. The commission said it was aware that other ABC affiliates had aired the show,  but would apply the fine only to those markets where complaints had been received and in the central and mountain time zones where the show aired out of the 10 p.m.-6 a.m. harbor for indecent broadcasts.

The fine is the $27,500 maximum (at the time of the airing) for each station. The current maximum fine has been raised more than tenfold to $325,000.

ABC defended the show and said it will fight the fine on behalf of its owned stations cited.

"NYPD Blue, which aired on ABC from 1993-2005, was an Emmy Award-winning drama, broadcast with appropriate parental warnings, as well as V-chip-enabled program ratings from the time such ratings were implemented," ABC said Friday in a statement.

"When the brief scene in question was telecast almost five years ago, this critically acclaimed drama had been on the air for a decade and the realistic nature of its story lines was well known to the viewing public," the network added. "ABC feels strongly that the FCC's finding is inconsistent with prior precedent from the commission, the indecency statute and the First Amendment, and we intend to oppose the proposed fine."

ABC had argued in defending the show that there weren't many complaints filed against it, but the FCC said that did not matter. ABC argued that the buttocks were not a sexual organ. The FCC rejected that, too. ABC argued that the scene was meant to show the difficutly of a single parent dating and that it was not meant to suggest any seduction or titillation of the boy, but the FCC said no dice there, too, saying that the multiple scenes of skin were certainly titillating to viewers.

The FCC also said that ABC's warning that the show contained partial nudity was not sufficient shield since the warning would not work if channel surfers happened on the show after it began, citing Supreme Court precedent for the decision.

Numerous TV station group owners were hit with proposed fines, with the list including Post-Newsweek, Hearst, Young Broadcasting, Citadel, Gray Television, McGraw-Hill, Media General, Nexstar, and Scripps Howard. Hearst appeared to be the hardest hit with six stations cited.

The FCC issued the proposed fine late Friday and asked each licensee to pay up by Feb. 11.

The move came exactly one week before broadcasters are scheduled to weigh in on the FCC's request that the Supreme Court review a lower-court decision slamming the agency's fleeting profanity enforcement and a little over one week before the fourth anniversay of the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake Super Bowl reveal.

Before defending its profanity rulings, the FCC reversed a profanity decision against



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