Viacom Agrees to Settle Indecency Fines for $3.5 Million

Jeff Berg
WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission reached an agreement with Viacom Inc. Tuesday to settle a slew of indecency violation investigations for roughly $3.5 million, according to consent decrees published on the federal regulator’s website.

Not included in the agreement is the $550,000 fine aimed at CBS for airing a Super Bowl halftime show in which singer Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed.

In exchange for settling the other outstanding fines, Viacom agreed to admit that some of the material was indecent and implement a company-wide compliance plan that includes purchasing and installing audio delay equipment at its radio and television stations.

Commissioner Michael J. Copps agreed with the decision to accept the settlement agreement, but expressed concern about the effect on the FCC’s license renewal process.

“The totality of a broadcasters’ record is pertinent and should be considered when licenses are renewed,” said Copps in a written statement. “Today’s decision takes an entire part of the record off the table. Today, the Commission tells those citizens that some information is no longer relevant in revaluating a broadcaster’s overall performance in the community.”

The FCC also made public a notice of forfeiture of $55,000 levied against Miami-based WQAM License Limited Partnership, owners of AM radio station WQAM, in connection with indecency charges.

According to the notice, episodes of the sports talk show “The Scott Ferrall Show” aired on the mornings of Sept. 9 and 10, 2003, contained numerous indecent remarks.

The complaint filed with the FCC states that on Sept. 9, an angry male caller phoned the radio program and caused Ferrall to have a very heated response. In addition to threatening the caller with time in prison, according to the complaint, Ferrall also said that the caller would be raped in prison, that Ferrall would engage in a variety of sexual acts with the caller’s wife and that he would then get his girlfriend to do the same.

Ferrall concluded by saying that he would “bash [the caller’s wife’s] brains in with a baseball bat,” and, “light the caller’s children on fire.”

On Sept. 10, Ferrall also allegedly engaged in a conversation that included extended descriptions of child molestation involving lit candles.

WQAM argued that the language used in the broadcasts was not patently offensive and were “merely declarative or interrogative,” and, “without descriptive detail” and were consistent with contemporary community standards.

The FCC dismissed indecency claims against Fox’s show “Couplings,” which involved conversations featuring “sustained and repeated use of sexual innuendo and double entendre, with sex the constant them,” and against the WB network’s “Off Centre” for featuring an episode that involved a character accidentally stopping up the toilet at the apartment of a potential love interest.