FCC fines 13 Fox TV stations $7,000 each

February 22, 2008 4:12:54 PM PST
Regulators on Friday fined 13 Fox TV stations $7,000 each for a 2003 episode of "Married By America" that included graphic scenes from bachelor and bachelorette parties. The Federal Communications Commission in 2004 proposed a $1.2 million fine against 169 affiliates of Fox Broadcasting Co. that aired the since-canceled reality show on April 7, 2003.

But the agency, which issued a forfeiture order on Friday, said it would only fine stations in markets from which it received complaints. TV stations in Las Vegas,Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Md.; Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Tupelo, Miss.; Des Moines, Iowa and Okemos, Mich. face fines totaling $91,000.

"Fox strongly disagrees with the commission's conclusions in the notice and we will be actively considering our options," Scott Grogin, the company's senior vice president of corporate communications said in a statement. He declined to comment further. The company is owned by News Corp.

In issuing its order, the FCC rejected arguments from Fox and its affiliates that no fine was warranted since the agency's indecency standard is unconstitutional -- and the episode in question didn't even meet the indecency test.

The six-episode "Married by America" introduced a cast of single men and women and allowed viewers to match them up by popular vote. Five matched couples then went through some rituals of dating, but none actually married.

Fox also said some images that were found to be offensive appeared on-screen briefly, only 10.5 seconds.

The episode in question featured explicitly sexual scenes from bachelor and bachelorette parties.

In its order released Friday, the agency said "by any reasonable definition" many of the activities at the parties constitute sexual activities and the scenes also depict sexual organs.

"While it is true that the nude female breasts and buttocks shown were pixilated, the commission has never held that the full exposure of sexual or excretory organs is required to satisfy the first prong of the broadcast indecency standard," according to the FCC order.

It's the second time in a month the FCC fined a TV network for airing past episodes of canceled series. The FCC has a five-year statute of limitations for pursuing such actions.

A month ago, the FCC proposed a $1.4 million fine against 52 ABC Television Network stations over a 2003 broadcast of police drama "NYPD Blue" over a scene in which a boy surprises a woman as she prepares to take a shower. The scene depicted "multiple, close-up views" of the woman's "nude buttocks" according to an agency order. ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Co.

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