When it comes to indecency charges, LIN Television CEO Gary Chapman isn't leaving anything to chance, not even in his local newscasts. LIN, the 24th-largest station group, has spent $200,000 to equip its 24 stations with devices that delay the broadcast of live signals and can replace video carrying indecent words or pictures.
"News organizations can't control what is being said on the air all the time," Chapman explained during the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas last week, "and this is just one more step we can take to comply with the current standards of indecency."
The LIN purchase highlights how the fear of indecency fines has forced TV stations to at least consider vetting their newscasts with the help of protective devices. LIN is the first station group to install the signal-delay devices specifically and consistently-for local newscasts.
ABC, CBS, and NBC have similar systems but say they are deployed only in special circumstances.
While the FCC has generally not focused on news programs for indecent material, local newscasts are now vulnerable under the current regime, said Kathleen Kirby, communications attorney with Washington law firm Wiley, Rein and Fielding. Alluding to the NBC-Bono decision, she noted that "some words are inherently indecent and profane." Context, she said, has been completely removed from the debate.
At the Radio-Television News Directors Association conference during NAB, Jeff Wald, news director at Tribune-owned KTLA Los Angeles, recounted a recent story on a protest where a car was vandalized and marked with a slew of expletives. The car was shown during the story but with the expletives digitally tiled so they couldn't be read.
Showing viewers written profanity, even as part of a news story, warned attorney Kirby, is to risk the wrath of the FCC.
FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy may have helped boost traffic on the exhibit floor to booths that sell signal-delay units. Lots of stations do good news work in the community, she admitted, but, "if you cross the line, we're still going to nail you for it."