Broadcasters Accuse FCC of 'Manipulating' Indecency Appeals

Say Network Challenges Being Stalled in Favor of Quick Review of Super Bowl Case

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WASHINGTON ( -- Broadcast networks today are accusing the Federal Communication Commission of trying to improve its chances of having its latest fines upheld in court by seeing to it that Janet Jackson's bare-breast Super Bowl incident is the first one to get appellate review.
The start of 'Nipplegate.'
The start of 'Nipplegate.' Credit: AP

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia will hear CBS's challenge to the FCC's $550,000 fine for the Super Bowl incident. Meanwhile, Fox Television Stations and CBS are accusing the FCC of attempting to put off another big indecency case to be heard in New York in hopes of having its decision upheld in the Philadelphia case.

Overturn March FCC ruling
The accusation came in a petition filed today in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Fox and CBS are attempting to overturn a March 15 FCC action ending a series of indecency cases with an omnibus order. Also included in the petition are NBC Universal and Fox affiliates.

In the March 15 order the FCC fined CBS stations $3.6 million for airing an episode of "Without a Trace" that contained images of teenagers in various states of undress during an orgy. The WB was also fined for episodes of "The Surreal Life 2" that contained "graphic, sexual images." In the same order, the FCC ruled indecent but gave no fines for four other programs: ABC's "NYPD Blue" (July 1 and 3, 2003), CBS's "The Early Show" (Dec. 4, 2004), and Fox's 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards broadcast.

After CBS and Fox appealed the decisions and the fines, the FCC took the unusual step of asking the appellate court to delay any proceeding, so as to let it reconsider part of its ruling. The FCC said there was some concern that the broadcasters that aired the four programs not fined may not have had adequate ability to respond before the ruling was issued.

'Manipulate judicial process'
"The FCC's tactics raise a serious question as to whether the commission is attempting to manipulate the judicial process to obtain a decision [on the Super Bowl incident] prior to any judicial review relating to fleeting expletives [in the other cases]," according to the petition.

Fox and CBS are fighting any delay and today they joined with NBC in arguing that the FCC purposely moved swiftly in the Janet Jackson case, while delaying the potentially less clear cases involving the other TV shows.

"The FCC's efforts to accelerate review of the Super Bowl order stand in stark contrast to its efforts to delay and frustrate judicial review of the Omnibus Order," the filing said.
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