The List May 2004

Air Pollution

FCC fines for indecency and obscenity
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In the wake of "Nipplegate"—the infamous Super Bowl halftime show in which Janet Jackson's breast was exposed—the Federal Communications Commission has very pushily pursued a crusade against broadcast indecency. But behind the scenes the FCC has been on the lookout all along. The task of policing the airwaves lies with its Enforcement Bureau, created in 1999 to centralize investigations of "obscenity" And "indecency." To fine a broadcaster, the FCC must complete an "indecency analysis" that considers whether material is explicit; whether it is repeated or dwelled on at length; and whether it is pandering, titillating, or shocking. Here are the cases that, according to published documents, resulted in the ten largest fines the FCC has levied since 1999.

  1. Bubba the Love Sponge and Clear Channel Communications, for segments featuring conversations about "oral sex, penises, testicles, masturbation, intercourse, orgasms, and breasts." The commission singled out as "calculated and callous" a segment featuring impersonations of the cartoon characters George Jetson, Fat Albert, Alvin the Chipmunk, and Scooby-Doo and Shaggy. Clear Channel was fined for twenty-six incidents and four technical violations, and threatened with license revocation. The Love Sponge was fired. Total fine: $755,000.
  2. Opie & Anthony, WNEW of New York, and Infinity Broadcasting, for a contest that awarded points for performing sex acts in public places. "Spotters" trailed couples to New York City locations (Saint Patrick's Cathedral, a zoo, FAO Schwarz), tabulated scores, and provided play-by-play description. The station was cited for thirteen indecency violations and threatened with the loss of its license. Total fine: $357,500.
  3. Elliot in the Morning, WWDC of Washington, D.C., and AMFM Radio Licenses. To win a competition to cage-dance at a Kid Rock concert, two sixteen-year-old girls discussed sex acts in the hallways, stairwells, and closets of Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School. Two indecency violations. Total fine: $55,000.
  4. Mancow's Morning Madhouse, WKQX of Chicago, and Emmis Radio License, for skits in which women—singly or gathered in Mancow's "lava lamp love lounge"—described and participated in sexual activities. Six incidents. Total fine: $42,000.
  5. KRON 4 Morning News, KRON-TV of San Francisco, and Young Broadcasting. Cast members from the Puppetry of the Penis show "appeared in capes but were otherwise naked." One exposed himself while performing "genital origami"—manipulating his genitalia to resemble "objects, architecture, and people," including the Eiffel Tower and a baby kangaroo. Total fine: $27,500.
  6. The Deminski & Doyle Show, WKRK of Detroit, and Infinity Broadcasting. Hosts asked callers to describe "explicit and graphic" sexual practices. Total fine: $27,500.
  7. Edmund Dinis and WJFD of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Callers to a Spanish-language program told dirty jokes about anal and oral sex, excretory activities, sexual intercourse with a child present, and Fidel Castro. Total fine: $22,400.
  8. Opie & Anthony, WNEW, and Infinity Broadcasting, for incidents including a graphic song about a father's having oral sex with his daughter. Total fine: $21,000.
  9. No te Duermas, WKAQ of Puerto Rico, and Telemundo, for one skit featuring a couple apparently engaged in oral sex, and another in which a woman lectures about sex toys. The FCC deemed the latter "not a clinical discussion" based on the way "she is carried off by two male models" at the segment's end. Total fine: $21,000.
  10. El vacilón de la Mañana, WCOM of Puerto Rico, and WLDI, Inc., for strong sexual innuendo in the morning weather report, among other things. Total fine: $21,000.
Matthew Quirk is an editorial researcher at The Atlantic.
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