WASHINGTON — The federal government has fined a Virginia television station $325,000 for showing a sexually graphic image to the public, the first fine of its kind to be issued in the past seven years.
According to reports, CBS affiliate WDBJ in Roanoke had included an explicit image during a 2012 news report about a former porn star who had left the industry to join a volunteer rescue group. The clip was reportedly from a screen shot of a porn film website.
The station claimed that the three-second image was accidental, and shouldn’t be punished because it was brief.
“We are surprised and disappointed that the FCC has decided to propose to fine WDBJ7 for a fleeting image on the very edge of some television screens during a news broadcast,” president Jeffrey Marks remarked in a statement. “The story had gone through a review before it aired. Inclusion of the image was purely unintentional. The picture in question was small and outside the viewing area of the video-editing screen.”
He also argued that the indecency regulation is unconstitutional as the fine placed an “extraordinary burden on protected speech.” $325,000 is the highest that a station may be fined for indecency.
But the FCC says that the fine sends a message that television stations have a responsibility to be careful of the content that they share with viewers, especially children. Federal regulations prohibit sexually explicit images from being broadcast between the hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“Our action here sends a clear signal that there are severe consequences for TV stations that air sexually explicit images when children are likely to be watching,” Travis LeBlanc, the head of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, said in a statement.
The Parents Television Council applauded the decision.
“[O]n behalf of millions of Americans across our nation who are concerned about the coarsening of their publicly-owned airwaves, we applaud today’s announcement from the FCC that a broadcaster is being fined for violating the broadcast indecency law,” said President Tim Winter in a statement. “The FCC’s unanimous and bipartisan ruling is a victory for families, and it serves as a powerful reminder to broadcasters who borrow the public’s airwaves that they must abide by the law.”
“For the last several years, the FCC has failed to enforce the law—even when broadcasters have aired explicit and disgusting content, like gang rape, child molestation, and a man [committing a sexual act on] a horse. Hundreds of thousands of public complaints remain to be adjudicated,” he continued. “[W]e … urge the FCC to continue to heed the voices of the American people who are rightly concerned about indecent radio and television broadcasts and its impact on children.”
The FCC had pulled back from issuing fines in recent years over court disputes regarding whether its regulations were too strict. As previously reported, in 2013, the government agency had asked for public input on whether it should ban the use of a single swear word or momentary frontal nudity in broadcast media.
In 2012, the Supreme Court overturned fines that the FCC had imposed regarding three broadcasts on the Fox and ABC Networks, which the agency had found to be in violation of its regulations. However, the ruling did not state that the FCC was wrong in severely punishing fleeting expletives or brief scenes of nudity, but rather outlined that the government should adjust its policy to provide clear warning if it wishes to bar such acts in the media.