Murdoch Defies FCC, Refuses to Pay Fox 'Indecency' Fine

25 March 2008

NEW YORK: It's not that Fox Television is short of a dollar or three – nor its controlling brood. So ménage Murdoch's refusal to pay Fox's share of a $91,000 fine levied by the Federal Communications Commission for alleged on-air indecency involving strippers and whipped cream is a matter of principle.

The FCC's decision, growls Fox, is "arbitrary and capricious, inconsistent with precedent, and patently unconstitutional." Counters FCC spokesperson Mary Diamond: "We believe in enforcing indecency standards, especially when children are watching."

Fox's noble stand in defense of freedom of expression involves a so-called "reality" show, Married by America, aired in 2003, in which contestants licked whipped cream off strippers whose naughty bits had been digitally obscured.

A suitably outraged FCC proposed fining every station that aired the show $7,000.

However, in the face of criticism, chairman Kevin J Martin and his four commissioners backed down last month and decided to fine only thirteen stations – among them Fox – that had actual complaints lodged against them.

The FCC's united quintet said they would have fined the stations more, had it been legally possible to do so.

Fox's challenge follows hard on the heels of the Supreme Court's decision last week to examine and rule this fall on the agency's authority to determine what is or is not indecent.

It will be the first time since the 1970s that America's highest court has waded into the quagmire of broadcast indecency.

The justices in their deliberations will doubtless recall George Bernard Shaw's observation in Man and Superman: "Decency is indecency's conspiracy of silence."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff