Emmis Communications agreed to pay $300,000 to settle all pending Federal Communications Commission (FCC) forfeiture orders, investigations and complaints.


NEW YORK -- Emmis Communications agreed to pay $300,000 to settle all pending Federal Communications Commission (FCC) forfeiture orders, investigations and complaints. The Aug. 12 Consent Decree also requires Emmis to implement a companywide compliance plan aimed at preventing future violations.

The settlement stems from complaints dating back to 2000 about WKQX (FM)'s "Mancow's Morning Madness" show in Chicago. The decree vacates three forfeiture orders totaling $42,000, six pending claims the FCC has yet to rule on and complainant David Edward Smith's pending requests to reconsider 21 previously denied complaints, an FCC spokesperson reports.

The compliance plan requires Emmis to conduct training on obscenity and indecency for all on-air TV and radio talent and employees who "materially participate in programming decisions." The training must include tutorials regarding material that the FCC does not permit broadcasters to air.

If Emmis receives a Notice of Apparent Liability or other proposed action from the FCC for a broadcast after adoption of this plan, it must suspend the employees accused of airing, or materially participating in the decision to air, the obscene or indecent content and immediately undertake an investigation. The company must also require the employees to undergo "remedial training" on FCC obscenity and indecency regulations and policies, as well as satisfy station management that they understand "where the line between acceptable and unacceptable programming falls" before resuming their duties.

If the suspended employee is on-air talent and permitted to return to the air, Emmis must subject the broadcasts to "a significant time delay -- up to five minutes" to interrupt a broadcast if its content "crosses the line."

If the FCC investigation results in a final adjudication where Emmis is found to have aired "or decided to air" an obscene or indecent program and this results in enforcement action, the offending employees must be "terminated without delay" to ensure that "those employees who break the law by broadcasting, or by materially participating in a decision to broadcast, obscene or indecent material will not work for Emmis."

Finally, Emmis must "fully participate" in efforts to develop a voluntary industrywide response to "indecency and violence."

Commissioner Michael J. Copps concurred in the decision to settle, but noted he was "troubled" by certain aspects of the agreement. His concern focused on the license renewal process, since the "totality" of a broadcaster's record should be considered when licenses are renewed. The decision "takes an entire part of the record off the table."

There is no FCC training manual or specific list of obscene and indecent material that can be used for tutorials, says the commission's spokesperson. There is only a March 14, 2001, policy statement that contains some guidelines and examples of acceptable and unacceptable conduct. Otherwise, Emmis must look to past case law and the rationale behind past regulations and orders to interpret what "crossing the line" may be.

In its issued statement, Emmis reports: "Earlier this year we adopted an aggressive policy to ensure that Emmis provides quality, compelling, on-air content that conforms to decency standards. We announced a zero tolerance policy and are taking extraordinary steps to educate our on-air employees and program directors. The consent decree settles all pending indecency-related issues, and allows us to move forward." The company had no additional comment.

Emmis owns 23 FM and four AM domestic radio stations, 16 television stations, international radio stations and other media.