March 23, 2015

Virginia TV station hit with maximum $325K fine for obscenity

Segment on porn-star-turned-volunteer showed too much action

By Cheryl Wetzstein
Monday, March 23, 2015
The Washington Times

Anti-pornography groups are applauding a federal agency’s decision to assess the maximum penalty of $325,000 on a Virginia television station for showing an indecent video clip in 2012.

The unanimous vote by the five-member Federal Communications Commission (FCC) marks the end of an eight-year “hiatus” on enforcing federal broadcast indecency law, said the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE).

“The FCC is the guardian of broadcast decency, and it must enforce the law,” said Dawn Hawkins, executive director of NCSE. “We praise FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler for initiating this enforcement action and for the message it will send to broadcasters everywhere.”

Federal indecency law prohibits the airing of indecent material on broadcast TV and radio between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

WDBJ-7, a CBS-affiliate television station in Roanoke, Virginia, aired a news report on a former adult film star who had joined the local volunteer rescue squad, according to a FCC notice filed Monday.

The July 12, 2012, segment included a few seconds of a “video image of a hand stroking an erect penis.”

“With this story, my family saw the [w]hole thing,” one viewer complained to the FCC.

“[W]ith this kind of material, I can’t believe they didn’t catch the penis before it went to air,” another viewer wrote.

WDBJ-7 said it received complaints quickly after its “top story” aired and did not rebroadcast it; it also removed the segment from the station’s website.

The station “obtained the video image online from the website of a distributor of the woman’s adult films,” the FCC report said. The station said the images “were not visible on the monitors in the Station’s editing bay,” and key news personnel did not see the indecent material before the broadcast.

An attorney for the station on Monday referred a request for comment to the station’s management. Jeffrey A. Marks, president and general manager of WDBJ-7, was out of the office and unavailable for comment, a station worker told The Washington Times.

The FCC proposed a “maximum available forfeiture” of $325,000. However, there is a way for the TV station to ask for reduction or cancellation of the fine, the agency noted in its 15-page notice.

Anti-pornography groups said the FCC vote comes after more than 1 million public complaints about foul language, partial nudity and other patently offensive content have gone unaddressed by the FCC.

“We remind [the FCC commissioners] that today must not be the conclusion of indecency enforcement,” said Tim Winter, president of Parents Television Council.

The agency hasn’t acted “even when broadcasters have aired explicit and disgusting content, like gang rape, child molestation and a man masturbating a horse,” said Mr. Winter. “Hundreds of thousands of public complaints remain to be adjudicated.”

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