by Ted Johnson, Senior Editor, Variety.com
The FCC plans to issue what it says will be the highest fine ever against a TV station for a single incident of airing indecent content, slapping a $325,000 penalty against a Roanoke, Va., TV station for airing a sexually explicit video clip of an adult film website during a news broadcast.
The planned fine against WDBJ-TV comes in response to complaints over the station’s July 12, 2012, newscast that featured a report on a former adult film star who had joined a local volunteer rescue squad.
Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, said that the agency’s action “sends a clear signal that there are severe consequences for TV stations that air sexually explicit images when children are likely to be watching.”
The FCC said that the broadcast violated federal law that prohibits stations from airing indecent programming from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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Update: Jeffrey Marks, president and general manager of the station, said that they plan to contest the ruling. He noted that the explicit image was not even visible on many TV sets and ran less than three seconds.
He said in a statement, “The enormous fine proposed by the FCC is also an extraordinary burden on protected speech. The FCC’s largest base fine for other types of violations by broadcasters is $10,000. That is the fine for a misrepresentation to the FCC. A transfer of a license without authorization has a fine of only $8,000; use of a station to commit fraud results in a fine of $5,000; broadcast of an illegal lottery costs a station $4,000. As the FCC admits, its base forfeiture for a violation of the indecency rules is $7,000. This unprecedented proposed fine is more than 46 times higher than the FCC’s own determination of the punishment for indecent speech.”