TV Networks File Appeal Against FCC

Gretchen Gallen
WASHINGTON – Fighting back against the Federal Communications Commission's March indecency ruling on 49 television shows, four of the biggest networks have filed an appeal against the FCC alleging unfair regulation.

The appeal challenges the FCC’s recent decision to levy huge fines – 3.6 million against CBS alone – against a clutch of TV programs broadcast between 2002 and 2005 that the FCC claims pushed the indecency envelope too far.

But the networks aren’t taking it.

CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox and their respective affiliates have filed an appeal claiming the FCC is enforcing “vague and inconsistent” indecency rules that have not been clearly standardized, and that the FCC “overstepped its authority.”

The fines applied to specific episodes of “NYPD Blue,” the “Billboard Music Awards,” “Survivor,” “The Early Show,” and an orgy scene in the show “Without a Trace,” to name just a few.

The FCC began its indecency witch-hunt in 2004 on the heels of the Janet Jackson nipple-baring incident during Super Bowl halftime. That incident, which sent shockwaves around the world, cost CBS $550,000 at the time, but the new FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has since upped those fines into the millions.

The FCC’s standard definition of “indecency” is content that depicts or describes “sexual or excretory activities or organs in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards.”

Since the Jackson incident, however, network executives have claimed that the rules set forth by the FCC were vague and inconsistently monitored and that they created an era of paranoia and fear among network executives afraid of getting caught on the wrong side of the law.

Television producer Steven Bochco was quoted by an Indiana newspaper as saying the FCC’s regulations caused a chilling effect on broadcast TV.

“You just can't say anything or do anything or show anything or tell a controversial story," Bochco said.

In the appeal, the networks condemned the FCC’s indecency patrol of the airwaves as being too controlling over what Americans can watch on TV.

The appeal was filed in federal courts in Washington and New York.

"In filing these court appeals, we are seeking to overturn the FCC decisions that the broadcast of fleeting, isolated, and in some cases unintentional, words rendered these programs indecent," the networks said in a joint statement.

The FCC defended its March indecency rulings as being in response to more than 300,000 complaints about shows dating back over the past four years.

"The number of complaints received by the commission has risen year after year," Martin said. "I share the concerns of the public – and of parents, in particular."