By Steven J.J. Weisman
BOSTON – Somehow it seems particularly fitting that the FCC chose April Fools’ Day to issue a press release in which it indicated that as a result of its review of its broadcast indecency rules following the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc., it had managed to reduce its backlog of pending indecency complaints by more than one million — which represented 70% of the outstanding pending complaints. How, you might ask, was the FCC able to carefully evaluate more than a million complaints in only six months? It was easy. These cases were summarily dismissed for various reasons, such as being beyond the FCC’s five-year statute of limitations, involved cases outside of the FCC’s jurisdiction, contained insufficient information or were not actionable due to previous established precedents. Cases were also dismissed for being, in the FCC’s words “too stale to pursue,” although there is no FCC definition of staleness. It is also interesting to note that the FCC has not brought an action against a broadcaster for indecency since 2008 and that order of the FCC against Fox involving the 2003 broadcast of the show “Married by America” — which originally carried a $1.18 million fine, later reduced by the FCC to $91,000 — was ultimately voluntarily dismissed by the FCC in September of 2012.
A cynic might find it curious that the reason for the staleness in those cases was the FCC’s total ignoring of these cases for years, although in the FCC’s defense, a reasonable case could be made for the agency’s hesitance to act in the last few years as Fox’s challenge to the indecency regulations made its way through the federal courts and ultimately to the Supreme Court which decided the case (sort of) on June 21, 2012. However, as for the cases that were dismissed for having insufficient information or being not actionable due to previously established precedents, those facts should have been readily apparent to the FCC years ago.