Noncom Gets Extension for Indecency Response


KCSM San Mateo, Calif., the noncommercial station hit with a proposed $15,000 indecency fine for airing the PBS documentary, The Blues: Godfathers and Sons, complete with profanities, has gotten an extension to May 5 to respond to the FCC.

Stations had 30 days from March 15 to either pay the fine or challenge it.

According to station attorney Margaret Tobey, of Morrison & Foerster in Washington, she asked the enforcement bureau for the extra time to assemble her case against the fine, and it was granted.

Turns out it will be a case of federal vs. county government. The licensee of the station is the San Mateo County Community College District, a government entity, says Tobey.

The FCC took the size of the small community station, and the fact that it programs college courses most of the day, into account in fining it less than half of the maximum $32,500 fine it levied on others for f-word violations.

The documentary featured blues and rap musicians talking like, well blues and rap musicians, including the s-word and f-words. While the FCC gave Saving Private Ryan a pass for profanities it said were integral to the artistic work, it concluded the same could not be said for the PBS doc, which is arguably a news program featuring people talking the way they actually talk.

CBS, Fox, NBC and ABC, their affiliate associations, and Hearst-Argyle, have already taken the FCC to court over several of the profanity-related indecency decisions in its March 15 release of numerous indecency fines and findings, saying they are unconstitutional.
Specifically, they targeted the decisions that did not draw fines because if they are not challenged at the FCC they become final decisions and a court is more likely to take the case.

A proposed fine, by contrast, has a lengthy FCC appeals process--response opposing the fine, decision to fine anyway, appeal of the fine--that can take years and which a court would be unlikely to preempt.

That is the route Blues must take, with PBS planning to weigh in soon in support of the station.