Feds give up on collecting fine from 'Married By America' telecast

Fox has scored a win in its long-running battle against an indecency fine levied against the network’s O&Os for a 2003 telecast of a sexually charged episode of the reality series “Married By America.”

The Department of Justice has dismissed the lawsuit it filed against four Fox O&Os after they refused to pay the fine imposed by the FCC. Other Fox affils paid the fine, which amounted to about $7,000 per station. On Friday, the Justice Dept. issued a notice of voluntary dismissal in the case. Fox is urging the FCC to reverse its decision on the fine in order to clear the record of the affils, many of which did pay the FCC’s sanction.

“Fox’s view has consistently been that the FCC’s fine had no foundation within the law, and we are grateful that the DOJ and FCC have now dropped the case,” Fox said in a statement. “In addition, we plan to urge the FCC to dismiss its underlying forfeiture order in this case, a move that will ensure that the Fox affiliates who paid the fine upfront do not unfairly suffer any negative consequences related to their broadcast licenses in the future.”

The Justice Dept.’s move in the “Married By America” case raises further questions about how the FCC will proceed in dealing with its huge backlog of indecency cases.

In June, the Supreme Court dodged the constitutional issues surrounding the FCC’s enforcement of indecency policy with narrow, procedural-based ruling in the case involving so-called fleeting expletives. The Supreme Court also declined to hear FCC’s appeal of a lower court’s decision to strike the commission’s decision to fine CBS stations for the brief flash of nudity during Janet Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl halftime performance.

The FCC under chairman Julius Genachowski has not been as aggressive as his predecessors on the indecency front. In a statement, Genachowski said the commission is “reviewing” its enforcement policies in the wake of the Supreme Court decision. Indecency proceedings have essentially been on hold while various legal challenges brought by networks and broadcasters work their way through the courts.

“In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Fox v. FCC, the Commission is reviewing its indecency enforcement policy to ensure the agency carries out Congress’s directive in a manner consistent with vital First Amendment principles,” Genachowski said in a statement Friday. “In the interim, I have directed the Enforcement Bureau to focus its resources on the strongest cases that involve egregious indecency violations. We also will continue to reduce the backlog of pending indecency complaints.”

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