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July 01, 2004
FCC to Fine Only Viacom for Broadcasting Indecency - Why?
Reuters is reporting that the FCC is going to fine Viacom $550,000 for Janet's nipple flash on the SuperBowl (Jackson Breast Flash May Get $550,000 Fine-Source). Jeff Jarvis notes that this would mean Janet completely topless would rate a million (The Daily Stern: The million-buck boobs). Ba-dump-bump. But, seriously folks, the decision isn't final and the Commissioners still have to vote on it. What intrigues me, however, is that the fine lawyers at the FCC apparently have argued that the 20 stations owned by Viacom should pay the maximum fine allowable, but the stations that aired the incident but were not owned by Viacom pay nothing. I have a feeling that at least one of the commissioners will complain about that, but let's think about possible reasons for that distinction:
- People are less offended when indecency is broadcast by community smut peddler, instead of national smut peddler.
- Statement by Commission that, "The determination as to whether certain programming is patently offensive is not a local one and does not encompass any particular geographic area," just a lie to trick unwary media conglomerates into slipping up.
- FCC Chairman Michael Powell has changed his mind, there is not one First Amendment, but two. One for media conglomerates, another for local affiliates.
- Local affiliates aren't responsible for what they broadcast. They're just there to collect the checks.
- FCC clumsily making up for increased media concentration by fining only concentrated media.
- "They can't fine us all." Local affiliates were right, FCC administratively unable to fine all 180 local affiliates, too much paperwork.
- Ooops. FCC thought they had already allowed all media to concentrate in single company. Didn't realize there were still local affiliates.
- It's arbitrary. "We're the FCC. ALL our indecency rulings are arbitrary. What are you going to do about it, huh?"
- Permitting local affiliates to broadcast indecency without fines will make them more competitive. Supports FCC policy goal of increasing local media diversity.
- No one was actually watching SuperBowl on the 180 local affiliates that broadcast it.
- FCC upset that Viacom subsidiary Paramount Pictures has ruined Star Trek franchise.
These are just a few of the possible justifications. Feel free to make up your own. The FCC will.
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