The Federal Communications Commission Tuesday proposed a $1.18 million fine against 169 Fox Television Network stations for broadcasting indecent material during an April 7, 2003, episode of Married by America.
In total, the levy is the largest ever proposed against a television program, but each station would face only the standard $7,000 indecency fine. Previously the $550,000 proposed against CBS for Janet Jackson's Super Bowl breast baring was the largest, and remains the largest per-station at $27,500.
Unlike the CBS fine, the FCC this time decided to fine affiliates as well as network O&Os.
CBS affiliates could not have anticipated the Super Bowl incident, the FCC reasoned, but affiliates of Fox could have refused to air the Married by America episode after previewing the taped episode and at least one station did pre-empt.
In that case, we concluded that the affiliates “could not have reasonably anticipated that the CBS Network production of a prestigious national event such as the Super Bowl would contain material that included the on-camera exposure of Ms. Jackson’s breast.” This program, in contrast, was a taped episode in a taped series, and the affiliates could have preempted it, as at least one affiliate did, the FCC said.
If the FCC upholds the Fox fine, each station would owe $7,000, the standard fine for a single incident.
“Married By America” was a reality show in which several single adults agreed to be engaged to and potentially marry each other, even though they had never previously met.
The episode in question focused on the Las Vegas bachelor and bachelorette parties for two couples featuring strippers and sexual situations.
Scenes included party-goers licking whipped cream from strippers’ bodies and a man on all fours in his underwear getting spanked by two strippers.
The commission received 159 complaints about the episode.
Fox argued that the scenes were not indecent because sexual organs were pixilated and because the scenes were fleeting.
Fox has until Nov. 11 to ask the FCC to rescind the fine.