FCC objects to sexual nature of 'America'

Fox Television is refusing to pay a $91,000 broadcast indecency fine that the Federal Communications Commission slapped on the network for a 2003 episode of its “Married by America” reality show.

In a statement released Monday — the deadline by which Fox had to respond to the FCC’s official notice of forfeiture — the net said it will instead file a request for the FCC to reconsider the fine.

In 2004, the FCC initially fined 169 Fox stations $7,000 each — a total of $1.2 million — for the episode, which included images of contestants licking whipped cream off strippers. Recently, however, the agency reduced the number of stations to 13 and thus the fine to $91,000, saying it would fine stations only in markets from which it had received complaints.

Fox has argued that the material was not statutorily indecent but rather was integral to the storyline.

“We reject Fox’s claim,” FCC analysts wrote after reviewing videotape. “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.”

Still, the network continues to dispute the validity of the fine.

“Fox believes that the FCC’s decision in this case was arbitrary and capricious, inconsistent with precedent and patently unconstitutional,” the company’s statement said.

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

Fox has been vigorously challenging FCC indecency rulings in the past two years. The network successfully sued the commission over a new policy it tried to enact on one-time expletives uttered in live settings, winning a federal appeals court decision that tossed out the policy. The FCC has since asked the Supreme Court to review that case, and the court agreed to hear it next fall.

Many industry insiders and observers as well as legal experts are looking forward to the high court review, which could radically limit, redefine or re-establish FCC indecency authority.

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