Network had failed to respond to indecency complaints

The FCC is seeking to fine Fox $25,000 for failing to respond to its inquiry into more than 100,000 indecency complaints over the network’s Jan. 3 episode of “American Dad.”

Regulators in FCC’s Enforcement Bureau cited Fox Television Stations’ “apparent willful and repeated violations” of a commission order to respond to the inquiry.

Although the fines were not for the content of “American Dad,” it represents one of the first significant actions on indecency under chairman Julius Genachowski.

Fox issued a statement saying it was “puzzled” by the FCC’s action “in light of the fact that we responded to all of the questions related to the substance” of the investigation. “We will respond in greater detail to the Commission in due course,” the network said.

The episode featured a scene in which two characters engage in ribald dialogue, followed by a scene in which it is highly suggestive that one character has given a horse an ejaculation.

That triggered an outcry from watchdog group Parents Television Council, which launched a campaign urging members to file complaints not just with the FCC but with lawmakers on Capitol Hill as well.

In its inquiry, the FCC sought information from Fox on all of its affiliated stations that may have aired the episode. But instead of sending the entire trove of complaints, the FCC sent Fox just a sample complaint identifying Fox station KDFW in Dallas.

According to the FCC, that station’s owner, NW Communications, did reply, but the responses “were incomplete and unsatisfactory.” NW contended that the Commission should seek an inquiry only from each licensee of a station that has received a complaint, not the entire network or station group. “We emphatically reject that position,” wrote P. Michele Ellison, chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau.

Fox is challenging the FCC’s indecency enforcement over “fleeting expletives,” and although the Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favor last year, it left it to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to decide on weightier constitutional grounds. A decision by the appellate court is pending.

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