First Maximum Indecency Fine Proposed for a Single TV Broadcast

Warning that broadcasters are “trustees of the public air waves, and ... parents should be able to tune into an early evening broadcast without fear that it will expose their children to sexually explicit or other indecent material,” the FCC has proposed a forfeiture of $325,000 against a Virginia television station that showed a sexually explicit image during a 6:00 p.m. newscast. The fine is the maximum permitted under Federal law, and the largest ever proposed, for a single broadcast of allegedly indecent material.

The case arises from a 2012 news story on Station WDBJ(TV), Roanoke, Virginia, about a former adult film actress who had joined a local volunteer rescue squad. During the report, the station broadcast images of the actress taken from an adult internet website. A small image on the side of the page depicted a promotion on that website for an unrelated video showing a sexual act. The image was displayed for approximately three seconds.

The FCC found that the broadcast – although admittedly brief – depicted sexual activity and violated contemporary community standards: it was graphic, dwelled upon the sexual act, and shocked the audience. The FCC rejected WDBJ’s claim that, following the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc., the FCC has not provided sufficient guidance about what programming will be considered indecent. The FCC also asserted that its indecency policy is constitutional and that the longstanding Pacifica case continues to support the FCC’s indecency enforcement.

The FCC’s Notice of Apparently Liability for Forfeiture can be found here.

For more information about the case or about the FCC’s indecency enforcement, contact any attorney in our office.

Categories: Media