April 3, 2003

Broadcasters take notice: Indecency violations can lead to license revocations

NEWS RELEASE from MORALITY IN MEDIA, Inc.

 

NEW YORK – (4 April 2003) – Television and radio stations should now be on notice that violations of the Federal Broadcast Indecency statute (18 USC 1464) can lead to license revocation, according to Morality in Media, a New York-based organization that works to uphold standards of decency in the mainstream media.

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday (3 April 2003) proposed a $27,000 fine against Detroit radio station WKRK-FM for violation of 18 USC 1464.  The fine is a punishment against the station’s owner, Infinity Broadcasting, based on “explicit and graphic sexual and excretory references” in material that aired on the station on 9 January 2002 between 4:30 and 5 p.m.

The FCC found that the material “was extremely lewd and vulgar, and … it appeared to have been used to pander, titillate and shock.”  Because of this, the FCC more than tripled the usual fine of $7,000 to the statutory maximum of $27,000.  It also said, “additional serious violations by Infinity may lead to a revocation proceeding,” and put broadcasters on notice “that the Commission would not hesitate to adopt strong enforcement actions in the future, including possible license revocation.”

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps dissented the decision, saying that the FCC “should initiate a hearing to determine whether the WKRK-FM license should be revoked.”  Commissioner Copps called the decision “a financial slap on the wrist [that] does not adequately reflect the seriousness of the station’s actions.”

Right to Decency, Inc., based in Fraser, Mich., filed the original complaint against WKRK-FM with the FCC.  WKRK’s response to the FCC did not deny that the program was patently offensive or indecent.  Instead, the station attacked the validity of the FCC’s definition of indecency in broadcasting.

“That kind of challenge is normally made in a courtroom, not in defending an FCC action,” explained MIM General Counsel Paul J. McGeady.  Mr. McGeady prepared and filed the response to the station’s position for Right to Decency, assisted by Mr. Richard Thompson, Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor.  As MIM General Counsel, Mr. McGeady has on numerous occasions submitted Comments to the FCC in proceedings addressing the problem of indecent broadcast programming and “friend of the court” briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court and to the District of Columbia Circuit Court in cases addressing such matters.

Mr. McGeady said, “In our response to the station, we made these key points:  First, the  Supreme Court has made it clear that the First Amendment does not protect indecent material in the broadcast medium.  Second, the Supreme Court has rejected vagueness challenges to the Federal broadcast indecency law.  Third, the station asked the FCC to do something beyond its power by, in effect, overruling the Red Lion broadcast spectrum scarcity case.  Fourth, the Supreme Court said in Pacifica that enforcement of the broadcast indecency statute is not censorship.  Fifth, it is not necessary to show a proximate link between broadcast indecency and harm to children—it is enough that Congress finds that such harm may exist now or in the future.”

Author: MIM   04/03/2003

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