TV Indecency Front Heats Up

HOLLYWOOD – Possibly in response to multiple editorials over the weekend in major newspapers, Fox Broadcasting has announced that it will challenge a proposed $91,000 fine which the FCC is attempting to levy against the broadcaster and several of its affiliates for having aired an episode of the reality show "Married in America" which featured, among other things, the pixelated image of partygoers licking whipped cream from the bodies of strippers.

The FCC had originally proposed, in a forfeiture order dated Feb. 22, fining 169 Fox-owned and -affiliated stations a total of $1.18 million for the broadcast, but wound up fining only 13 in areas where actual complaints had been filed – allegedly as part of the FCC's new "appropriately restrained enforcement policy."

In other words, apparently it didn't matter that the offending show was actually broadcast in 156 markets that weren't fined; just that harm was done only in markets where complaints were filed – and of course, no actual evidence of the "harm" allegedly caused by the pixelated images and/or the thoughts they inspired were required for the fine to be levied.

"We believe in enforcing indecency standards, especially when children are watching," said FCC spokeswoman Mary Diamond.

Fox had 30 days from the date of the forfeiture order to pay the levy, but Fox Broadcasting, possibly buoyed by its win in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals against the FCC's attempt to fine Fox and other broadcasters for airing "fleeting expletives" during award show telecasts, decided to challenge the FCC on the airing of (pixilated) nudity as well, asking the agency to "reconsider" the fine, and arguing that the material was, according to a story in Variety, "not statutorily indecent but rather was integral to the storyline."

"We reject Fox's claim," FCC analysts wrote after reviewing a videotape of the episode in question. "Even with Fox's editing, the episode includes scenes in which partygoers lick whipped cream from strippers' bodies in a sexually suggestive manner. Another scene features a man on all fours in his underwear as two female strippers playfully spank him. Although the episode electronically obscures any nudity, the sexual nature of the scenes is inescapable, as the strippers attempt to lure partygoers into sexually compromising situations." [Emphasis added]

The FCC analysts, therefore, based their rejection of Fox's defense in part on the fact that the storyline of the episode was of a "sexual nature," even though no "dirty words" were used and no nudity could be seen; just the fact that, like innumerable other television shows and commercials, the images could inspire sexual thoughts in the minds of viewers.

George Orwell had a word for that: Thoughtcrime.