WASHINGTON — The anti-smut crusade may be losing its steam on Capitol Hill, but the Federal Communications Commission continues to slap broadcasters with indecency fines.
The latest came late Tuesday when the FCC proposed a record indecency penalty of nearly $1.2 million against Fox Broadcasting Co. for an episode of its reality series “Married by America” that aired more than a year and a half ago.
Controversial program followed several single adults who agreed to be engaged and potentially married on the show though they had never met. The agency took issue with the April 7, 2003, episode, which focused on the Las Vegas bachelor and bachelorette parties for the two remaining couples and featured strippers and “various sexual situations,” according to the FCC decision.
Federal law bars broadcasters from airing references to sexual or excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. The agency received 159 complaints from the public after the broadcast. The episode in question aired before 10 p.m.
During the investigation, Fox argued that the Las Vegas party episode did not contain descriptions of sexual or excretory organs or activities and, even if it did, it did not meet the “patently offensive” FCC threshold for a violation. Fox noted that it carefully edited out any indecent content.
The FCC flatly rejected Fox’s claims.
In its ruling the FCC said that even with Fox’s editing, the episode includes several indecent scenes, including one in which partygoers “lick whipped cream from strippers’ bodies in a sexually suggestive manner” and another in which two female strippers spank a man on “all fours in his underwear.”
Fox electronically obscured any nudity, but the FCC said that did little to tone down the overtly sexual nature of the party scenes. “Although the nudity was pixilated, even a child would have known that the strippers were topless and that sexual activity was being shown,” the commissioners wrote.
The unanimous decision of all five commissioners shows that the agency, which is headed by Republican Michael Powell, is willing to level fines against the Fox net, controlled by noted conservative Rupert Murdoch. The FCC imposed a $7,000 fine against each of the 169 Fox TV stations that aired the program.
Fox has 30 days to appeal.