FCC & Viacom Settle For $3.5 Million On Outstanding Fines
November 23, 2004
The FCC and Viacom have settled most of their outstanding business today with the announcement of a $3.5 million Consent Decree covering "certain of its subsidiaries to resolve investigations into whether Viacom broadcast stations, as well as non-Viacom owned affiliates of the CBS Television Network and UPN, had aired obscene, indecent, and/or profane material in violation of the Communications Act and Commission rules."
One question still unanswered is the Janet Jackson Super Bowl half-time show "wardrobe malfunction," which occurred earlier this year, as that $550,000 Notice Of Apparent Liability, filed back on September 22, is "expressly excluded from the scope of the Consent Decree."
The most noteworthy Notices of Apparent Liability covered by the Consent Decree are the $357,500 NAL released October 2, 2003 for the Opie & Anthony "Sex For Sam" stunt at St. Patrick's Cathedral, which originated from WNEW-FM/New York and a $27,500 NAL released March 18, 2004 for Bono’s 2003 Golden Globe Awards telecast when he let the "f"-bomb fly.
One of the pending Forfeiture Orders covered by the consent decree is a $27,500 Forfeiture Order released December 8, 2003, covering a January. 9, 2002 broadcast of WKRK/Detroit afternoon drivers Deminski & Doyle.
Other stations involved in this decree resolving the aforementioned pending NAL's and Forfeiture Orders, plus Enforcement Bureau investigations and third-party complaints include: WLLD-FM/Holmes Beach, FL; WYSP-FM/Philadelphia, PA; KYCY-AM/San Francisco, CA; WBUF-FM/Buffalo, NY; KSFN-AM/North Las Vegas, NV; WXTM-FM/Cleveland Heights, OH; WAZU-FM/Circleville, OH; KUPL-AM/Portland, OR; KHWD-FM (formerly KXOA)/Roseville, California; KLLI-FM/Dallas, TX; WJFK-FM/Manassas, VA; WCKG-FM/Elmwood Park, IL; and WBCN-FM/Boston, MA.
“We have now resolved all outstanding matters before the FCC related to indecency except for the Super Bowl," said a Viacom statement regarding today's actions. "While we deeply regret the incident involving Janet Jackson, we believe that a government fine for an unintentional broadcast is unfair and unwarranted, and we are challenging that decision. This consent decree allows us to move forward and to focus our efforts in this area by serving our viewers and listeners with techniques to safeguard live broadcasts, such as cutaways and video and audio delays."
While concurring with the Commission's decision today, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps issued a statement saying, "I would also sound a cautionary note that the Commission has gone down this road before with Infinity Broadcasting which is now part of Viacom. At that time, the Commission praised the steps Infinity took to ensure compliance with the indecency laws. Yet, today, we are once again settling numerous indecency complaints against Infinity and its parent company, Viacom. Going forward, I urge my colleagues to accord prompt and vigorous attention to any future listener or viewer complaints against this licensee."
Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein added, "I support today’s action. By admitting that certain broadcasts violated our indecency rules, by making a sizable contribution to the U.S. Treasury, and by entering into a company-wide compliance plan involving training, internal investigations and suspensions, and delay mechanisms, Viacom has renewed its commitment to prevent the broadcast of indecent material on its stations. Faithful adherence to the compliance plan should obviate the need for Commission enforcement in this area. Given Infinity Broadcasting’s history with the Commission, we will expect strict adherence to today’s agreement."
However, Commissioner Kevin Martin was as supportive of today's Consent Decree stating, "Today, the Commission issues a consent decree with Viacom for several pending indecency complaints. This consent decree differs significantly from others which we have recently reached involving indecency complaints. For example, the consent decrees that we signed with both Clear Channel Communications and Emmis Communications – which were identical to each other – require more concrete actions to protect against and deter the airing of inappropriate material in the future. By contrast, this consent decree does not have all of these protections. I am concerned that this consent decree is significantly different and may be less of a deterrent for future violations. Moreover, by requiring less of Viacom than we have required of others, we may be treating those other companies unfairly."
In addition to Viacom's deposit into the U.S. Treasury, the Consent Decree also calls for the company to implement "a company-wide Compliance Plan aimed at preventing future violations."