FCC To CBS: Why Doesn't Trace Airing Violate Consent Decree?

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Much of the FCC's indecency muscle may be in check due to ongoing court challenges by broadcasters, including CBS, but that doesn't mean the issue is off the commission's radar.

In response to a license challenge filed against CBS-owned KUTV(TV) Salt Lake City by the Parents Television Council, the station cited in the indecency complaint against Without a Trace, the FCC has asked CBS to document what steps it took to comply with a consent decree signed weeks before the show aired a "teen orgy" scene.


It was actually a re-airing of an episode that had drawn one of the PTC complaints wiped away by the consent decree.


CBS says it didn't violate the decree and is preparing a response to the commission.

The PTC had complained that the Without a Trace airing Dec. 31, had violated a consent decreee CBS had signed with the commission Nov. 23 sponging away indecency complaints and proposed fines against it, mostly against Howard Stern (the Janet Jackson complaint was excluded from the settlement) in return for agreeing to institute policies to prevent indecent broadcasts in the future.

The decree had required CBS to "immediately suspend all employees materiallly participating in the decision to air indecent programming, and launch an internal investigation upon issuance of a notice of apparent liability."

CBS argues the program wasn't indecent, but the consent decree's self-regulatory promises, says the FCC, are essentially triggered by what it, not CBS, concludes is indecent since it is triggered by an FCC Notice of Apparent Liability for indecency, which the FCC issued in the case of Trace.

The FCC has sent a letter to CBS saying that it needs to know whether CBS took those self-regulatory steps at KUTV after the notice of apparent liability for Without a Trace was issued.

CBS said Wednesday that it did not believe it had violated the decree. "CBS will respond promptly and comprehensively to the FCC's inquiry and make clear why we believe we have lived up to the consent decree," the company said in a statement. "Moreover, when the Commission finalizes its decision on the Without a Trace episode in question, we are confident our position will be affirmed that the episode was not indecent."

CBS challenged the Trace indecency finding over a year ago and the commission has yet to act on it, so the FCC could still find the episode indecent on appeal or, failing that, take it to court.


If the commission found CBS to be in violation of the consent decree, it could designate its station license for hearing.


CBS has 10 days to respond to the FCC, which wants it to amend and resubmit its license renewal application for the station, which it filed a year ago, to include answers to the following questions.


"1. Please indicate whether CBS or KUTV conducted an internal investigation following issuance of the March 15, 2006, NAL, and if so, please describe in detail the nature and results of the investigation.

2. If no investigation was conducted, please provide a detailed explanation as to how such action is consistent with paragraph 8(f) of the November 23, 2004, Consent Decree. 

3. Please indicate whether CBS or KUTV suspended any employees who aired or materially participated in the decision to air the December 31, 2004, episode of “Without a Trace” following issuance of the March 15, 2006, NAL, pending the outcome of a separate investigation.  If so, please provide the name(s) of the individual(s) suspended, their role in the decision to air the December 31, 2004, episode of “Without a Trace,” and the date of suspension.  Please explain, if applicable, whether the suspended employee(s) were subsequently reinstated, and the basis for reinstatement.

4. If no employees were suspended following the March 15, 2006, NAL, please provide a detailed explanation as to how such action is consistent with paragraph 8(f) of the November 23, 2004, Consent Decree.

5. Finally, please indicate whether any CBS or KUTV employees underwent remedial training with respect to the Commission’s indecency prohibition following issuance of the March 15, 2006, NAL, and, if so, provide the names of the employees that underwent such remedial training.  Describe in detail the nature of such remedial training, specifically how the employees satisfied station management that they understood the indecency laws before resuming their duties.

6. If no remedial training was conducted, please provide a detailed explanation as to how such action is consistent with paragraph 8(f) of the November 23, 2004, Consent Decree."

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