The US TV censors of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have announced that they intends to fine a local TV station WDBJ7 $325,000 for
airing sexually explicit material during a 6 o'clock newscast three years ago. The story aired about an adult film star who joined a local fire rescue squad.
The TV company obtained the troublesome video image online from the website of a distributor of the woman's adult films. The website, which was partially displayed along with the video image, is bordered on the right side by boxes showing video clips
from other films that do not appear to show the woman who is the subject of the news report. One of these video clips, displayed in a box, contains the image of sexual activity involving manipulation of an erect penis. Although the box does not show
the entire body or face of the apparently nude male depicted, the image shows a hand moving up and down the length of the shaft of the erect penis. WDBJ asserts that this image was displayed for less than three seconds.
The commission explained its arbitrary lynch mob justice:
Our action here sends a clear signal that there are severe consequences for TV stations that air sexually explicit images when children are likely to be watching.
WDBJ7's President and General Manager, Jeffrey Marks, issued a statement:
We are surprised and disappointed that the FCC has decided to propose to fine WDBJ7 for a fleeting image on the very edge of some television screens during a news broadcast. The story had gone through a review before it aired. Inclusion of the image was
purely unintentional. The picture in question was small and outside the viewing area of the video editing screen. It was visible only on some televisions and for less than three seconds.
This year, WDBJ7 celebrates 60 years of broadcasting in the public interest, with news that is trusted and family friendly. We are sorry that this incident happened, of course, but we truly believe that the FCC failed to take into account the history of
WDBJ7 and its six decades of outstanding broadcasting.
The enormous fine proposed by the FCC is also an extraordinary burden on protected speech. The FCC's largest base fine for other types of violations by broadcasters is $10,000. That is the fine for a misrepresentation to the FCC. A transfer of a license
without authorization has a fine of only $8,000; use of a station to commit fraud results in a fine of $5,000; broadcast of an illegal lottery costs a station $4,000. As the FCC admits, its base forfeiture for a violation of the indecency rules is
$7,000. This unprecedented proposed fine is more than 46 times higher than the FCC's own determination of the punishment for indecent speech.
As the FCC noted, Schurz Communications --- in its 60-plus year history of TV ownership -- has paid only one other FCC fine. That was for a minor and self-reported Children's Video issue.
WDBJ will oppose the FCC's proposed sanction.