TV Smut Fines by Christmas

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Look for the FCC to release a package of TV-related indecency decisions before Christmas.

A second, all-radio package in the works could come early next year, but according to one source close to the commission, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is unlikely to let 2005, his first year as chairman, go down in the books with no indecency actions—there have been settlements of complaints through consent decrees, but no fine proposals.

If no indecency fines were proposed, it would be the first year since at least 1993 and would be quite a difference from the $7,928,080 proposed in 2004. But that is unlikely to happen.

The source says the Media Bureau is even now editing the group of TV complaints, though at press time the package had not gone up to the commissioners for their review and comment.

According to two high-placed sources, not included are decisions on challenges to the commission's ruling that the f-word is indecent as an adjective (the Bono decision) and that Janet Jackson's partially unclad breast is, well, just indecent.

The TV package is said to be a mix of denials and proposed fines that, taken together and signed off on by the commissioners, are meant to be a better guide to what the FCC thinks is indecent, though it will lack the guidance that the Bono and Jackson reviews would provide.

Enforcement Bureau notices of apparent liability, or complaint denials, do not have to be voted on by the commissioners. For instance, the initial finding that the Bono f-word on NBC's Golden Globes broadcast was not indecent was not voted on by the commissioners, while the reversal of that decision was.

Sources say FCC Chairman Kevin Martin wanted to release these actions all at once—and with the commissioners weighing in—so that there could be more clarity (and fewer Bono-like reversals) to FCC indecency enforcement going forward.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, for one, is on the record saying he would like to see the commissioners more directly involved in indecency decisions, and commissioners Adelstein and Abernathy are said to be ready to release the actions once the bureau is done with them.

FCC indecency fines provide broadcasters with guidance on what they can program. But without a clear statutory definition, that guidance is the sum of past FCC decisions to sanction or not to, or in the case of Bono, both.

One line of reasoning goes that since those decisions effectively constrain content for the nation's most powerful communications medium, arguably even more so when companies are settling complaints with promises of self-regulation, the commissioners should have to vote on them.

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