FCC and Justice Department declare war on Fox

by Paul William Tenny

If you don't keep up on wire reports, you probably don't know that the FCC has recently declared war against the big TV networks and the affiliate stations that broadcast their content. This is a fight over indecent content that supposedly meets the definition of obscenity, which is the magic word that allows the federal government to violate the first amendment virtually unchallenged. I say virtually because FOX and friends have finally had enough of these "obscene" faith-based fines for policy violations that exist entirely in the imaginations of the FCC, and now the Bush administration. Unfortunately, a new player got in the game to double-team Fox and this thing may spiral into one of the biggest legal fights over the censorship of television ever.
This isn't a political rant so much as it is an acknowledgment that what the networks are dealing with right now has been a long term goal of the President that started the moment he took office. Conservatives are notoriously prudish when it comes to sexual liberty and will fight it with every tax dollar they can beg, borrow, and steal. Rather than using the Department of Justice to investigate actual crimes committed by the Bush administration, or having them prosecute terrorists and actual criminals, the DoJ has decided to go after one of the worst threats to America today: a Fox reality show that went off the air four years ago.

According to Reuters, the FCC initially tried to fine 169 Fox affiliate stations almost $1.2 million dollars for airing a single episode of the reality show "Married in America", which was canceled in 2003. Why the FCC waited five years to act is not known, but the patently ridiculous money grab fell apart once somebody realized that it probably wasn't a good idea to fine stations that didn't actually receive any complaints for the show in question. Once those numbers were factored in, only a scant 13 stations were fined -- a 92% reduction.

Fox appealed the fines but was rejected without any consideration when the FCC ruled that their paperwork was out of order. Apparently there was some arcane page limit that Fox exceeded. Before Fox could challenge the fines in court, the Justice Department sued Fox to collect the fines -- which amount to little more than $90,000 -- probably less than DoJ will spend in tax dollars pursuing the case just in the first round. Any ruling will likely be escalated to the Supreme Court eventually.

I don't know when this show used to air, but it is generally accepted via FCC policy and court case precedent than anything that airs at or after 10pm at night may contain more raunchier content since it is presumed children will be in bed. No where do I see anyone asking any questions about why parents allowed their kids to watch this kind of garbage, regardless of when it aired, or why the parents that did complain didn't use the V-CHIP in their television set that allowed adult content to be blocked from viewing.

This all follows the equally bizarre fines against ABC for an episode of NYPD blue, another show that hasn't been on the air for years. While the nudity in the episode in question was tame and not sexualized -- a prerequisite for acceptable government censorship -- that show was most definitely aired after 9pm. The questions far outnumber the answers in both cases. Why did the FCC wait so long to lodge these fines? Whose complaints triggered these actions against shows that aren't currently on the air, and how many complaints did it take to get some action? How is a woman's bare ass more obscene and unsuitable for television viewers than the train wreck on CBS, 'Kid Nation'?

None of this is actually surprising, the FCC has been pushing the boundaries of censorship ever since President Bush took office. In the past two years, there have even been rumblings out of the commission that the FCC has inherent authority to regulate cable as well as broadcast television, and should start doing so immediately. The implications of that power grab are simply stunning and I don't think many people are aware of what is going on behind the scenes right now, and why it is so important to make the right choice in the 2008 presidential elections. Consider this a partisan screed if you will, but Senator McCain is very much cut from the same cloth as George Bush. The current makeup of the censorship-happy FCC is only going to continue under McCain, and the DoJ is certain to grow even more aggressive in prosecuting even the slightest hint of naughty bits and language on TV, the Internet, radio (including satellite) and more.
in Legal, Television


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