FCC Slaps Fox With Fine for 'Married by America'

Agency Acts Before 5-Year Statute of Limitations Runs Out

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The Federal Communications Commission has fined 13 Fox stations for an episode of "Married by America," a show that aired nearly five years ago that featured two couples being entertained by male and female strippers.

This is the FCC's second move against what it calls indecency on TV in less than a month, and both fines are against programs that aired in 2003. That's because the five-year statute of limitations on any action against those programs is about to run out.

"Married by America" aired April 7, 2003. On Jan. 25 of that year, the FCC proposed an indecency fine against ABC stations for airing an episode of "NYPD Blue" that featured scenes of a woman's buttocks. That fine was formalized this week and ABC paid it and immediately challenged it in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

Awaiting Supreme Court decision
Both fines come as the Supreme Court considers whether to take a case that could limit the FCC's indecency authority. That case involves Fox's airing of comments from Cher and Nicole Richie during live broadcasts of the Billboard Music Awards shows.

The FCC action against Fox's "Married" comes three and a half years after the agency proposed fining 169 Fox stations for airing the broadcast. The FCC said it limited the fine to 13 of the stations because viewers of those stations were the only ones to complain. The FCC fined each station $7,000.

"Married By America" was a weekly hourlong series featuring single people who agreed to be engaged and potentially to marry. The April 7 episode focused on bachelor and bachelorette parties for two female and two male contestants with adult entertainment; the epsiode cut back and forth between scenes of the parties.

In some of the scenes at the bachelorette party, a male stripper wearing pants but no shirt strips atop one woman wearing a miniskirt and lying on her back and thrusts his crotch in her face. At the bachelor party, two female strippers remove clothing and one eventually provides an lap dance that includes straddling one of the "grooms." Finally, the show switches back to the bachelorette party, where a topless female stripper is shown lying on a couch, cupping her breasts as a "bride" straddles her.

Arguing on behalf of pixillation
Fox and some of its affiliates had argued that the scenes were carefully pixilated and nudity could not be seen and that the strippers were actually on air for less than 10.5 seconds.

The FCC disagreed. "The party scenes were graphic in their depiction. The fact that isolated body parts were 'pixilated' did not obscure the overall graphic character of the depiction," the FCC said. "The scenes in question were imbued throughout with highly charged sexual content."

Fox in a statement today said it "strongly disagrees with the commission's conclusions and we will be actively considering our options."
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