FCC sues Charleston station for airing 'explicit' show

By Audrey Holsclaw | Apr 9, 2008

CHARLESTON -- The federal government is seeking money from a Charleston television station for airing a sexually explicit episode of "Married by America."

Filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, the complaint states that on April 7, 2003, before 10 p.m., WVAH-TV broadcasted an episode of the FOX television network program called "Married by America" that depicted scenes from two Las Vegas bachelor and bachelorette parties. Following its broadcast, the Federal Communications Commission received several complaints about the episode containing indecent material.

According to the complaint, the episode contained caressing of naked chests and stomachs, thrusting of a male dancer's crotch in a female's face, a topless female dancer performing a lap dance for a groom-to-be, spanking, two female dancers kissing while straddling a shirtless man, and a female dancer cupping her bare breasts. Apparently, not everything was obscured by pixilation.

On October 12, 2004, the FCC filed a notice of apparent liability (NAL) and made a preliminary finding that the episode's depiction of sexual activities and nudity was in violation of the Public Telecommunications Act.

However, WVAH-TV was not the only FOX station to be fined. Originally, 168 other stations were involved in the suit with damages totaling $1.2 million. FOX told the FCC it would not pay the fines because it believes the decision was "arbitrary and capricious, inconsistent with precedent and patently unconstitutional." FOX appealed the decision twice.

Following the NAL, on Feb. 22, 2008, the FCC released a forfeiture order stating that the episode indeed constituted a willful broadcast of indecent material and ordered WVAH-TV to pay $7,000 by close of business on March 22. With February's forfeiture order, only 13 stations remained part of the complaint because they were the subject of actual viewer complaints. This brought the total fine down to $91,000. Four other stations paid the fine, and another station was dropped because no viewer complaints were filed against it. Five of the remaining eight stations belong to FOX, and the other three belong to Sinclair Broadcast Group.

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear another case involving FOX and a broadcast of expletives, and that would be the first broadcast indecency case to be heard there since 1978.

Filed on April 4, 2008, by Jeffrey Bucholtz, Arthur Goldberg, Jacqueline Coleman Snead, Charles Miller, Eric Beckenhauer, and Kelly Curry of the United States Department of Justice, the complaint states that WVAH-TV did not pay by March 22.

Because WVAH-TV has not paid, because the episode aired between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., and because the content was explicit, the federal government is seeking damages in the amount of $7,000 to be paid to the United States Treasury, interest on the amount, and reimbursement of court costs and attorney's fees.

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