FCC Fines ABC for "NYPD Blue" Episode
Special Report - January 29, 2008
Fifty-two ABC-owned and affiliated television stations could be forced to pay $27,500 each in fines for broadcasting indecent material during a 2003 episode of “NYPD Blue.” The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed the cumulative $1.43 million in fines against the ABC stations in a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) issued on January 25. The NAL charges the stations with broadcasting adult female nudity on a February 25, 2003 episode of “NYPD Blue” at 9:00 p.m. Central and Mountain Standard Time. The timing of the episode is important because under federal law, radio and television stations are banned from airing indecent material between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., and from airing obscene material at any time. Indecent speech is defined by the FCC as “material that, in context, depicts or describes sexual or excretory activities or organs in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards.” No North Carolina stations were fined, because the episode aired after 10:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
According to the FCC, the agency received thousands of complaints from concerned citizens and citizen action groups about the “NYPD Blue” episode, which depicted a young boy walking into a bathroom and seeing a naked adult woman about to get into the shower. After reviewing tapes of the episode, the FCC concluded, “the material in this episode was explicit, dwelled upon, and shocking, pandering, and titillating.”
In its response to the FCC complaint, ABC, which is owned by the Walt Disney Company, argued that the scene’s purpose was to “illustrate the complexity and awkwardness involved when a single parent brings a new romantic partner into his or her life.” It also pointed out that the beginning of each “NYPD Blue” includes a warning of “adult language and partial nudity.” According The Washington Post, ABC intends to appeal the ruling to the FCC.
The FCC rejected ABC’s arguments, stating that, “the programming at issue is within the scope of our indecency definition because it depicts sexual organs and excretory organsspecifically an adult woman’s buttocks.” As for the warning, the FCC noted that, “the Supreme Court has ruled that such warnings are not necessarily effective because the audience is constantly changing stations,” and “there is reasonable risk that children may have been in the audience.”
“Our action today should serve as a reminder to all broadcasters that Congress and American families continue to be concerned about protecting children from harmful material and that the FCC will enforce the laws of the land vigilantly,” FCC Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate said in a statement. “If a broadcaster makes the decision to show indecent programming, it must air between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. This is neither difficult to understand nor burdensome to implement.”
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