Clear Channel Dodges Indecency Hit

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One day after settling a bunch of indecency allegations with Clear Channel Communications Inc., the Federal Communications Commission released another notice of apparent liability against the company, then rescinded it in the next breath.

In fact, all the heavy breathing was a while back. Seems the FCC had issued the NAL in February for a suggestive segment full of penis-related innuendo on WIHT(FM) Washington back in 2002. The FCC had planned to fine the station the $27,500 maximum.

Although the P-word was never used, "various common euphemisms, some that could easily be understood by children, were used instead," concluded the commission, and anyway, "the use of euphemism or innuendo is not a defense to a finding of indecency."  

Turns out that a few weeks later staffers discovered that the statute of limitations had expired in October 2003, so the FCC had to rescind the NAL. Neither action was released until yesterday.

FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein used the snafu as an opportunity to criticize the complaint process. "It is unfortunate that after the Commissioners promptly voted this item," he said, "we were made aware that the statute of limitations had run out.  We should not let unnecessary delay deprive us of the ability to meet our obligation to enforce statutory and regulatory provisions restricting broadcast indecency."

Copps pointed out that the station's license had been renewed in the fall while the complaint was still pending, using that as an opportunity to renew his call for a more thorough review of public interest performance at renewal time, "It is unfortunate that in this instance a license was renewed while a pending complaint remained unaddressed," said Copps.

Once a license is renewed, the FCC only has a year from the alleged violation to act on an indecency complaint.

"Going forward, the Commission should not only ensure that all complaints have been addressed before a license is renewed," Copps said, "but we should also conduct a more thorough examination of how stations are meeting their public interest responsibilities over the term of their licenses."
Clear Channel Wednesday settled a bunch of pending indecency complaints with the FCC for $1.75 million, so even if the NAL had been within the time limit, it would have been wiped away by the deal.

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