A stinging appellate court rebuke and other legal challenges may have hobbled the FCC’s indecency and profanity enforcement. But the commission appears to have found a way to keep making its point to CBS, thanks to a consent decree signed back in November 2004.
According to the decree (which then-parent Viacom signed to erase all but the Janet Jackson indecency complaint), CBS must suspend relevant employees and launch an investigation if the FCC issues a notice of apparent liability (NAL) for indecency.
On June 27, the FCC sent a letter to CBS asking if it has taken such steps since March 2006, when the commission levied a multimillion-dollar fine against CBS-owned stations over a December 2004 airing of an episode of Without a Trace. (The episode featured a “teen orgy” scene.)
When the Parents Television Council charged CBS in August 2006 with violating the consent decree by failing to take such action against KUTV Salt Lake City, the network said it concluded that KUTV “had presented nothing indecent and that none of its employees had done anything wrong.”
But, in its June letter, the commission reminded CBS that the requisite suspension and investigation should follow the NAL, not a final finding of indecency, which is still under appeal. Should the FCC find that CBS violated the terms of the decree, it could designate KUTV’s license renewal for hearing. (CBS is selling KUTV, but the FCC has yet to OK the transfer.)
CBS won an extension, until Aug. 10, to respond to the letter but issued a statement saying that it will “make clear why we believe we have lived up to the consent decree” and that “we are confident our position will be affirmed that the [Without a Trace] episode was not indecent.”