WASHINGTON — The FCC received complaints after NBC and CNN used the word “s—hole” in their coverage of the controversy over comments President Donald Trump reportedly made to lawmakers during a meeting about immigration.
An FCC spokesman said they received a “handful” of comments, but did not have an exact figure yet. The agency does not monitor programming, but reviews each complaint to decide whether to take any type of action.
CNN featured the term on its chyron, and it was also repeated on air multiple times. But the FCC’s jurisdiction over indecency and profanity does not cover cable and satellite programming.
The word was used once on “NBC Nightly News,” but anchor Lester Holt issued a viewer warning in advance. CBS and ABC chose not to use the word.
The FCC considers a number of factors in whether to act on a complaint, including “context,” and that in the past has included whether it has been a part of news programming. Broadcasters are confident that they would be exempt for using the term in the news context.
News organizations said they decided to use the word in print and on TV because of the news value and the person making the remarks, the president of the United States.
“Factors in determining how FCC rules apply include the specific nature of the content, the time of day it was broadcast, and the context in which the broadcast took place,” the FCC says in guidance to consumers making complaints. The prohibition on such content applies to broadcasts between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Trump appeared to deny using the term “s—hole countries” to refer to Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations. He said in a tweet on Friday that it was “not the language used.” Later, though, he wrote that, “Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said ‘take them out.’ Made up by Dems.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who was in the meeting, said on Friday that reports of the president’s profane remark were accurate. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), said on Twitter that, “the words used by the President, as related to me directly following the meeting by those in attendance, were not ‘tough,’ they were abhorrent and repulsive.”
The agency does not sanction individuals, but stations that broadcast the profane or indecent content. The FCC can fine or sanction individual stations for obscenity, indecency, or profanity. A station can be fined up to $383,038 for any “single indecent broadcast.”