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Government Levels Hefty Fine Against Clear Channel Communications

WASHINGTON – The government proposed a $755,000 fine against Clear Channel Communications on Tuesday for a sexually explicit radio show aired on four stations, the second-highest such fine ever proposed.

The Federal Communications Commission, whose chairman recently urged that penalties be increased for indecent programming, said the stations – all in Florida – aired various episodes of “Bubba the Love Sponge” a total of 26 times. The commission proposed fining Clear Channel the maximum $27,500 for each time the episode ran, or $715,000.

Clear Channel also was fined $40,000 because of record-keeping violations at the stations. The company has 30 days to pay the fine or appeal.

In response, Clear Channel called for an industry task force to develop clear indecency standards for radio, television, cable and satellite networks.

“We believe the time has come for every sector of the media to join together and develop consistent standards that are in tune with local community values,” said Mark Mays, president of the company. “Our audiences deserve nothing less.”

The FCC also announced that it wanted to fine KRON Channel 4 in San Francisco the maximum $27,500 for broadcasting indecent material on its morning news program.

During an interview with performers of the “Puppetry of the Penis,” who wore capes but nothing else, one of the actors exposed himself. The FCC said the station should have expected that such a display could have occurred and should have taken steps to prevent it.

It would be just the second fine leveled against a television broadcast for indecency.

“I hope this step today represents the beginning of a commitment to consider each indecency complaint seriously, and to recognize that indecency on our airwaves is not limited to the radio,” FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin said.

The largest fine ever for indecency was $1.7 million paid by Infinity Broadcasting in 1995. Also, the FCC last October proposed fining Infinity $357,000 for a radio segment on the “Opie and Anthony” show in which a couple was said to be having sex in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The head of Clear Channel Radio said his broadcasts are not meant to be indecent.

“We work hard every day to entertain, not offend our listeners,” said John Hogan. “None of us defend or encourage indecent content it’s simply not part of our corporate culture.”

The latest fines came a day before a congressional hearing on obscenity prompted by the FCC enforcement bureau’s decision not to fine rock star Bono for an expletive uttered on NBC during the Golden Globe Awards show last year.

The lead singer of the Irish rock group U2 said, “This is really, really, f—— brilliant.” The bureau said Bono’s comments were not indecent or obscene because of the way the word was used.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has asked his fellow commissioners to overturn the decision. In addition, legislation has been introduced in the House to prohibit broadcasters from airing eight specific words or phrases, including the word uttered by Bono.

Powell also has urged Congress to approve a tenfold increase in the maximum fine of $27,500 per incident. He said the current fine is not large enough to dissuade huge broadcasters from airing objectionable programming.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee holding Wednesday’s hearing, has introduced legislation to boost the fines.

Under FCC rules and federal law, radio stations and over-the-air television channels cannot air obscene material at any time, and cannot air indecent material between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. The FCC defines obscene material as describing sexual conduct “in a patently offensive way” and lacking “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” Indecent material is not as offensive but still contains references to sex or excretions.

 

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