News has generally been off-limits as far as indecency enforcement goes, but there is no statutory news exemption and, in today's post-Janet Jackson climate, the Radio-Television News Directors Association is taking no chances. It has added a panel to next month's convention entitled "Indecency, Sex, Violence and the News."
RTNDA may have cause for concern. The FCC has recently ruled that swearing, even if someone is shooting at you or has dropped an anvil on your foot, may be actionable. News may no longer be untouchable either. In fact, it isn't.
Part of the impetus for adding the panel was the FCC's $27,500 indecency fine two months ago against Young Broadcasting’s KRON-TV San Francisco for a local morning news segment on stage troupe Puppetry of the Penis during which one of the "puppets" was inadvertently exposed.
The FCC has historically considered newsworthiness a shield from indecency fines. One example was the case of NPR's broadcast of F-words in a wiretap of the late mob boss, John Gotti. But the FCC's reversal of the Bono decision effectively jettisoned context as a mitigating factor for the F-word.